A Huge Day for North Minneapolis and our Kids

 

Saturday morning I was at the graduation for parents in the Northside Achievement Zone’s (NAZ)FamilyAcademy

 

Shortly after getting her “diploma” while Pomp and Circumstance was being played,  north Minneapolis parent Lucretia Gibbs came to the microphone to tell what this meant to her.  She talked about the struggles in her life as she tries to raise a young family.  As she told about how the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) has surrounded her with support, she began to cry and couldn’t go on.  Two young boys lept from their chairs in the audience and ran to the podium to hug her.

Those of us in the audience smiled to see her young sons comfort their mother.  Except they weren’t her sons.  They weren’t her relatives at all and in fact, they didn’t know her.   

 

At that moment when two very young strangers embraced a parent who needed support we saw exactly what the Northside Achievement Zone is all about.  The Zone, which we call “NAZ”, is about having every single parent and every single child surrounded with support.  When any one of us sees a parent in need of support, we step up to help….even if we are a stranger barely old enough to go to school.

 

Those values are what has given so many of us hope about the promise of NAZ,  and it’s why the Obama Administration today awarded NAZ a $28 million Promise Neighborhood grant so they can reach hundreds more parents.    This is a monumental grant that can help transform the neighborhoods in north Minneapolis and the families that live there

 

Minneapolis received this astonishing grant in large part because of the groundbreaking work led by Sondra Sameuls, NAZ Executive Director.  She and the many, many people who have spent several years forming this partnership are winning the future, one child and one parent at a time.

 

We also have to remember that one of the reasons we got this grant is that we have one of the largest achievement gaps of any city in the country.  This grant is the wind in our sails to attack this problem but it should also be a challenge to see this state of emergency as just that.   Until every child is thriving we can’t move forward; every bit of energy in our community has to be brought together right now.

 

Along with this fantastic news today that is much more happening here. 

 

  • Friday Minnesota received a federal Race to the Top grant to focus on early childhood development in areas of the state with the highest achievement gaps, including northMinneapolisand parts of St. Paul.
  • Mayor Coleman and I have joined our school superintendents, the Presidents of the University of Minneapolis and the Community College Network, leaders of foundations and many others to implement a “strive” partnership to bring all the collective energy of all these partners to attack the achievement gap.
  • The Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board is bringing all our partners together —city, parks, schools, teachers, parents, children—to sign a “compact” that will hold us all accountable for specific steps we will take in the next year to help our kids.
  • The Minneapolis Promise, which includes our STEP-UP Summer Job Program, will continue to expand efforts to get our young people on career tracks that lead to college.
  • We have also had a coalition of foundations who continue their long term commitment to investing in north Minneapolis, including General Mills, McKnight, United Way, Minneapolis, Cargill, Carlson Family, Northway and Northwest Area, and many many others.

 

Much more is happening and much more needs to happen.  This is a crisis and we have to treat it as one.    But I am more confident than ever that we will win the battle for the future of our kids.  

 

Sometimes things are tough in north Minneapolis but the people are resilient.  Together we have faced down the economic collapse, the foreclosure crisis, an epidemic of youth violence, a tornado, and much more.  Problems remain, certainly, but we are winning the battle on all fronts.

 

All eyes now turn to north Minneapolis again, from all over the country.  Once again they will see what we are made of, and we know that this next generation will be successful because we proved we are all in this together.

 

Congratulations Sondra Samuels and the Northside Acheivement Zone.

 

Congratulations to many hundreds of people who have been part of helping the northside.

 

Now let’s get back to work!

 

R.T.

 

 

I want to add a final word about my friends Sondra and Don Samuels.   I met them about 9 years ago in the midst of a horrible few evenings when it seemed north Minneapolis was coming apart.  As community activists they stood up and challenged everyone to put more of ourselves on the line to make the northside a better place to live.

They talked about what needed to be done, but they also dug in and made it happen.  Don got elected to the city council and started the Peace Foundation.  Sondra took over the Peace Foundation and started the Northside Achievement Zone.   While they were doing all that they were everywhere in the community, including holding a vigil every time a person died in north Minneapolis, an amazing action that has put a human face on what too many people wanted to ignore.

 

When my wife Megan and I are asked about who we see a heroes we often say Don and Sondra.  

 

We believe deeply in their work and today we know that the President and others inWashingtonbelieve as well.

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It’s official: No tax increase in next year’s City budget

It’s official: the City of Minneapolis will not increase the property-tax levy in 2012. That’s because last night, the City Council unanimously passed the no-tax-increase budget that I proposed in September.

The newly-adopted 2012 City budget makes a major new capital investment in street improvements and invests in the coordinated One Minneapolis initiative to start eliminating racial disparities in jobs and wealth. It also maintains investments in public safety that have brought down violent crime citywide to historic lows, and eliminates no positions in the Fire Department.

This budget reflects many years of sustained hard work to pay down debt, cut spending, end a broken pensions system and restore the City’s financial health.

  • Since 2002, we have paid down $183 million in debt and restored the City’s AAA credit rating.
  • We are spending 9 percent less than 10 years ago and have 12 percent fewer full-time positions than 10 years ago.
  • We will spend basically no more money in 2012 than we are in 2011.
  • Earlier this year — after seven years of trying — we negotiated a merger of two closed City pension funds with the State’s public-employee retirement system that averted a $20 million tax increase that would have been forced on taxpayers in 2012.

With the passage of the budget, we’re also making a major new capital investment in street improvements. Starting next year, we will invest $150 million — 60 percent more than we had previously planned — in making our streets better over the next five years. It starts next year with investing $9 million more in street improvements in 2012 than previously planned, then ramps up in 2013 with $23 million more in improvements.  

This investment also means that we’ll be taking a lot of union workers in the building trades off the bench and putting them to work.

But a decade ago, when the City was debt-ridden and had lost one of its AAA bond ratings, we simply couldn’t have borrowed the money to do it. Today, however, because we’ve paid down so much debt, we can borrow at low rates to pay down our infrastructure debt. And make no mistake about it: a pothole in a street is just another kind of debt.

I’m pleased that we’re also investing in the coordinated One Minneapolis initiative to start eliminating long-standing disparities in jobs and wealth in communities of color, particularly in the African American community. We will start by training and placing people in good jobs in the green-manufacturing economy through the RENEW initiative, with help from federal economic-stimulus dollars. It’s long past time to end these shameful disparities.

This budget didn’t come easy. Even with the strong foundation of fiscal health that we have laid over the past decade, we had to work hard to bring it in with no tax increase for next year because of yet another cut by the Legislature in Local Government Aid (for a total of $405 million in the past decade), and because of continued declines in commercial and residential property values, among other factors.

This budget doesn’t come without pain, either. We made cuts to nearly every City department and service. Altogether, these cuts will mean about 100 fewer positions at the City in 2012. Some of them were already vacant, but many of them weren’t. As a result, a lot of hard-working public servants will be without jobs next year.

The residents, public servants and taxpayers of Minneapolis have been incredible partners as we have tried to balance many different but equally important needs — holding taxes and spending down, paying off debt, making streets smoother and safer, making the economy stronger and creating opportunity for our youth. I’m pleased that our years of hard work are paying off next year in a budget that will meet many of our needs without one more dollar in property taxes.

(All that said, it’s frustrating that many taxpayers will still see increases next year even though the City isn’t raising any more money from property taxes. Much of the reason is that the State Legislature eliminated a property-tax credit called the Market Value Homestead Credit. The City of Minneapolis Truth in Taxation website explains this in more detail.)

2012 City budget with no tax increase moves forward

This week, my proposed 2012 zero-property-tax budget for the City passed another hurdle, after the City Council’s Ways and Means/Budget Committee, led by Chair Betsy Hodges, recommended it to the full City Council for adoption next Wednesday.

I was grateful that we were able to partner with committee members to make some positive changes to the budget, in part because of some good financial news since I first proposed the budget a few months ago. Because of careful financial management in the Police Department, and because we will receive some more federal dollars than we had conservatively counted on, we are able to restore funding for several important initiatives, including Crime Prevention Specialists in the Police Department who work on the ground with residents of our neighborhoods to increase everyone’s safety, and the nationally-recognized Domestic Abuse Partnership in the City Attorney’s office, which has partnered with nonprofits and service providers to significantly increase the conviction rate in domestic-violence cases.

The committee also took action to ensure the continued success of our Youth Violence Prevention initiative, which has dramatically lowered youth violence, and move forward the One Minneapolis partnership that I proposed to eliminate the employment gaps in our city between whites and people of color, especially African Americans.

I thank the Ways and Means/Budget Committee for making these important changes, which I was pleased to support.

In recent weeks, I’ve continued to host neighborhood budget forums, at which I have been joined recently by Council Members Elizabeth Glidden, John Quincy and Meg Tuthill. At these forums, neighbors have told us several things:

  • They’re pleased that we are not raising property taxes next year but feel that property taxes are still too high — and I strongly agree.
  • Many are worried that they are still seeing their property taxes go up, primarily because of the Legislature’s elimination this year of the Market Value Homestead Credit.
  • They’re glad that crime is way down and want it to go even lower.
  • They’re concerned about the condition of our streets and relieved to hear that we’re planning another wave of major new investment to improve our infrastructure.
  • Above all, they’re still worried about the state of the economy and want all levels of government to focus on creating jobs and rebuilding prosperity that benefits everyone, not just a few.

Every one of these needs and concerns is critically important. It can be tough to balance them all, but the budget that I proposed attempts to do that — with no tax increase, a significant five-year investment in our infrastructure, ongoing strong support for public safety and a focus on creating jobs and growing our economy.

I’m very grateful for the active partnership with the City Council in moving these priorities forward. As we move toward final budget adoption next Wednesday, December 14, please contact your Council Member and me to share your ideas and concerns.

The great thing about local government is that it’s where the rubber meets the road, where we work to meet people’s basic concerns about jobs, homes, safety, streets and quality of life. Unlike other levels of government, we can’t pass problems down onto anyone else — and at the City of Minneapolis, we wouldn’t have it any other way.