Investing in a greater Minneapolis

The 2013 Minneapolis budget that I delivered two weeks ago makes important investments in improving our streets, bridges, bikeways and other infrastructure that I’d like to tell you more about.

Streets

Five years ago, we realized that our plans to improve our streets were not keeping up with the need, and that we needed to do more. So we began the Infrastructure Acceleration Program to improve one-third of our busiest arterial streets in five years.

With one year left on that program, we have improved 107 more additional miles of streets — from Chicago Ave. S. to Dowling Ave. N., and just about everywhere in between.

Still, that wasn’t enough to keep up with the need, so last year I proposed a new, five-year capital-improvement budget that is 60% larger than we had previously planned, which the City Council passed.

In 2012 alone, this means that we are improving 70 miles of streets. Two of the streets that are being completely redone this year are ones almost everyone notices:   

  • Nicollet Avenue, which we are rebuilding from Lake Street to 36th Street this year and 36th to 40th Streets next year. I drive Nicollet many mornings, and both my alignment and I are getting much happier.
  • Riverside Avenue. Coupled with the renovation of Riverside Plaza and the completion of the Central Corridor light rail line, the West Bank will be one of the America’s most physically well-connected and economically vibrant neighborhoods.

Our deepest thanks go to the residents, businesses and patrons of these neighborhoods. When done, these improvements will make life easier and safer for everyone.

And in 2013, we will invest 300% more in improving our roads than we had planned for just two years ago.

These three maps show the difference between our improvement plans five years ago, the additional improvements we made with the Infrastructure Acceleration Program, and the many more that we will make through 2017 thanks to our new capital-improvement plan. It’s pretty impressive.

Bridges

We just marked the fifth anniversary of the tragic 35W Bridge collapse. We said at that time we would never again take our common infrastructure for granted. The progress we are making on bridges shows we are delivering on our promise.

  • The Plymouth Avenue Bridge will be open once again to traffic in October while we continue work on it for another year.
  • We have broken ground on the Van White Bridge that will directly connect North Minneapolis to South Minneapolis.
  • We will begin structural repairs on the 10th Avenue Bridge in 2014, creating exciting bike and pedestrian links between the West Bank, the University, Downtown, Marcy Holmes and Northeast.
  • And remember that we rebuilt the long-delayed Camden Bridge just two years ago, thanks to stimulus dollars from the Obama Administration.

Bikes

My budget continues to invest in bicycle infrastructure: by the end of 2012, Minneapolis will have 182 miles of on- and off-street bikeways that serve nearly 32,000 people every day, and we will add more in 2013.

I’m particularly pleased that in next year, my budget funds the Bluff Street bike trail, which will finally connect the University of Minnesota trail on Bridge No. 9 to the downtown riverfront along South Second Street, through a tunnel in the 35W Bridge that we fought to have included when the bridge was being built.

How we pay for it

People sometimes ask why we don’t spend infrastructure dollars on other needs, like police or firefighters. The answer is that capital improvements are paid for by selling bonds whose proceeds can only be used on capital improvements and cannot be used on staff.

We can make this major, new capital investment in our infrastructure only because we have made the hard-nosed choice over the last 10 years to pay down $241 million in inherited debt, which has allowed us to restore Minneapolis’ AAA bond rating — meaning it costs less to borrow for these improvements.

Investments pay off

Investments in our infrastructure pay off in the long term — by helping businesses grow, people get to jobs and home values rise — and in the short term. For example, this winter, we will spend $100,000 less for road salt because we invested in spreaders that apply salt more efficiently. That’s great for the bottom line — and because that means we will spread 5,000 fewer tons of salt this winter, it’s great for our lakes, rivers and creeks, too.

Passing on a greater Minneapolis

We stand on the shoulders of people who were bold and visionary enough to build a Minneapolis of great roads, bridges, schools, parks and one of our America’s best water systems. With my budget, we are investing to pass on an even greater Minneapolis to our children and grandchildren.

Please let me know what you think by contacting me here or me at rt@minneapolis.org, with “Infrastructure” in the subject line.

 

2013 budget invests in roads, safety and reform

Yesterday I proposed a budget for Minneapolis for 2013 that makes significant investments in strong roads and safe streets, as well as in supporting middle-class housing, growing the economy and closing the racial jobs gap. This is the core work of Minneapolis city government and the work we will continue to invest in. But we can only keep doing it if we keep reforming services to deliver them more effectively and with greater value, and the budget I proposed does that as well.

We are able to deliver these investments with a 1.7% increase in the property-tax. Because this increase is below the rate of inflation, and because commercial properties will shoulder more of the overall tax burden in 2013, at least 70 percent of Minneapolis homeowners should feel no increase — or will even feel a decrease — in the City portion of their property taxes next year.

Now any increase is a burden, but I want to be clear: this 1.7% increase is half of what it would have been if we had not passed the Vikings stadium deal, which gave Minneapolis full control for the first time of hospitality taxes that help reduce the burden of Target Center on our property taxes. Once again, I thank Council President Barbara Johnson and Council Members Kevin Reich, Diane Hofstede, Don Samuels, Meg Tuthill, John Quincy and Sandy Colvin Roy for their vote to reduce pressure on property taxes for years to come.

Investing in safety

I’m proposing to add $2.5 million to the Police Department budget to convert existing community service officers to sworn officers, hire new community service officers and begin a new recruit class of new officers in early 2013. The goal is to have 10 more officers on the force by next summer, which is the time of year when we need them most.

I’m also adding $1.1 million to hire firefighters so that the Fire Department — which an independent study just called efficient and well operated, with excellent response times — can prepare for expected retirements. We will also start a new recruit class of firefighters in 2012.

Investing in infrastructure

Minneapolis is in year one of a five-year, ramped-up investment in infrastructure that I announced in last year’s budget address. This level of investment follows the end this year of the five-year Infrastructure Acceleration Program that has improved an additional 104 miles of streets.

As a result of this heightened investment, in 2013, we will be investing 300% more in improving streets and other infrastructure than we had previously planned. We can do this because we have paid off so much debt and restored our AAA bond rating.

But we don’t just spend money on roads, we save money, too. Next year we will spend $100,000 less on salting our roads during winter because we invested in spreaders that do it smarter. This isn’t just good for the bottom line: because we will spread 5,000 fewer tons of salt on our roads this winter, it’s good for our lakes, rivers and creeks, too.

Reforms

The biggest reform that I’m proposing is to reorganize the Department of Regulatory Services by moving business-related functions to our economic-development department and environmental services to our health department, concentrating the remaining functions in a new inspections department. This will save $300,000–400,000 next year alone, and will send the message to our vibrant businesses that Minneapolis is here to grow your business, not slow your business.

Tackling tough financial issues

These kinds of investments are only possible because of the hard work we have done over the past decade to restore the City’s finances and tackle some heavy financial burdens we once faced.

  • Paying down debt. Ten years ago, we inherited a city in a financial crisis with a maxed-out credit card. Since then, we have paid down or avoided $241 million in debt and restored the City’s AAA credit rating.
  • Reforming pensions. After years of effort, last year we succeeded in reforming several closed-pension funds whose taxpayer-funded obligations were exploding. In 2012 alone, this reform saved Minneapolis property taxpayers $20 million. And I’m proud to say that in 2012, Minneapolis will also retire all its pension debt.
  • Holding the line on wages. Some politicians, like in Wisconsin, are quick to attack hard-working public employees, but in Minneapolis, we’ve partnered with them. Over the years, we’ve worked together to save healthcare costs without sacrificing quality and hold the line on wages, which has allowed us to save jobs and hold down property-tax increases.

Had we not tackled these financial issues head-on, Minneapolis taxpayers would be paying 35 percent more in property taxes in 2012 than they currently are. Tackling these issues has been the right thing to do.

I hope you’ll take the time to follow the 2013 budget as we consider it this fall. Please let your City Council member and me know what you think.