Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey acknowledges that his city is still reeling from one major crisis "sandwiched on top of another.''
Those dual crises are the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and wide-ranging fallout from the horrific May death of George Floyd while in police custody. Against that challenging backdrop, this week he gave an overview of his proposed budget for 2021.
"Under the weight of the pandemic and on the heels of the civil unrest following George Floyd's killing, our city's finances are under severe duress," Frey said in a video posted Friday. To address declining revenue, the mayor rightly suggests a smaller budget.
Frey also proposes continuing a citywide hiring freeze through 2021, reorganizing departments to find savings and reducing the number of employees by offering early retirement incentives.
Though Frey is under pressure from some City Council members and constituents to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department and reallocate its funding, he reiterated that he opposes that idea. Now that the Charter Commission has effectively blocked a ballot initiative that would have eliminated a requirement that the city maintain a police force, Frey said he will work with the council to maintain the Police Department while also exploring alternative public safety efforts that do not involve sworn officers.
In a meeting with the Star Tribune Editorial Board this week, Frey said his budget proposal would result in the MPD having fewer than 800 officers in 2021, compared with about 880 at the beginning of this year. Asked if the reduced force could meet the city's public safety needs, Frey said, "It's a concern."
Frey said about 100 officers already have or are in the process of retiring or taking medical leaves. He said with those departures and more likely to come, the department will have an opportunity to hire recruits who will add diversity to the ranks and help bring about a much-needed culture shift.
Frey's preliminary 2021 budget calls for about $1.1 billion in spending, with a little less than $1.4 billion in revenue. That's lower than the approved $1.6 billion the mayor and council originally approved for 2020, though by midyear officials had reduced spending to about $1.4 billion in response to the pandemic.
Even with the cutbacks, Frey recommends some worthy areas for additional investment. He wants to increase support for the Office of Violence Prevention, boost the city's commitment to affordable housing and continue the "Stable Homes Stable Schools" program, which has helped 330 families.
Frey's preliminary budget is likely to change by the end of September, then change even more before the final spending plan is adopted by the City Council in December. Flexibility is critical as city leaders react to the economic downturn. And the November elections will determine the lineup of state and federal leaders who will take office next year and decide whether any assistance will be provided to cities in 2021.
As the budget negotiations continue, the future of the MPD will be at the center of discussions. Frey and council members who have often been at odds about the future of policing now have every reason to work together on a new vision that better responds to the city's public safety needs.