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(SUN POST FILE PHOTO BY KEVIN MILLER)

The Brooklyn Center Police Station as viewed through the fencing that lines the property’s perimeter. The police department began the year with 44 officers. It now employs 32. The city has secured approximately $1.1 million to work towards creating a new public safety division staffed by unarmed civilains that responds to mental health calls and minor traffic incidents.

The Brooklyn Center City Council approved a $1.3 million levy increase in the preliminary budget and levy for 2022 Sept. 27, a 6.9% uptick.

The preliminary levy represents the highest rate at which the city may levy its taxes. Once approved, the council can lower, but not increase the tax levy.

Increases in the budget resulted from debt obligations related to bonding, a cost-of-living adjustment and wage increase for all city workers, reduced costs for fines and recreation programming, and the creation of a new Office of Community Prevention, Health and Safety, said Reggie Edwards, city manager.

“This budget was a significant challenge given the time of all that the city is going through, has gone through, and continues to go through,” Edwards said. “With COVID-19, the death of Daunte Wright, civil unrest, the economic conditions, and the fiscal challenges of the city, … the poverty rate, the income, things of that nature.”

The council voted 4-0 to approve the levy and budget, with Mayor Mike Elliott abstaining.

The levy was approved at $21.3 million. The 2021 general fund and debt service budgets and levies were approved at $19.9 million.

Despite the increase, with the city’s tax capacity on the rise, property taxes for a median value home valued at approximately $205,830, with a market value tax exclusion, are expected to drop by $24 for 2022.

Policing

In the budget, $154,850 was allocated to create a new Office of Community Prevention, Health and Safety. The new office is expected to begin work on the council’s resolution to redesign the city’s public safety response model.

Following the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright in April, the council adopted a resolution to create a new public safety division that responds to mental health calls for service and minor traffic infractions with unarmed civilians.

In mid-September, Edwards told the council that a full implementation of the resolution, named the Daunte Wright and Kobe Dimock-Heisler Community Safety and Violence Prevention Act, was not financially feasible in near future.

Sharing the resolution’s namesake with Wright is Dimock-Heisler, who was on the autism spectrum and was shot and killed in 2019 by Brooklyn Center Police officers during a domestic incident.

The new office will work toward implementing the spirit of the resolution without immediately creating three new departments and hiring directors with staff, Edwards said.

“What we did was, we utilized a balance of some increase in general fund dollars, fairly low, in order to maintain a low tax levy increase,” Edwdards said. “Over time, as we look for sustainability of that effort, we can stage out the funding of those efforts.”

In total, approximately $1.1 million has been secured to work toward implementing the resolution, Edwards said.

Foundations have contributed $500,000 to the city’s efforts over the next several years, while two full-time executive fellows with FUSE Corps will assist the city’s research and outreach efforts.

FUSE Corps is a national nonprofit that advances racial equity work through an executive fellowship program. Edwards valued their work for the city at approximately $300,000.

The council is also funding an estimated $140,000 manager position for the project’s Implementation Committee through federal American Rescue Plan dollars.

For 2021, the Police Department’s budget decreased slightly, from $9.7 million to $9.6 million, accounting for approximately 39% of general fund expenses.

One resident spoke during the council’s virtual meeting, questioning the overall costs for operating the police department when the city plans to shift some duties away from the department.

Edwards said that any change in police services through the public safety resolution will be an addition to the services already offered, rather than a reduction in service from the Police Department.

“It’s not a switch out of a dollar for a dollar, it is an addition,” he said.

In the long term, the city hopes to see a reduction in need for services, Edwards said.

The police department is authorized to have a maximum of 49 patrol police officers.

Tony Gruenig, police chief, said the department started the year with 44 officers, and is currently down to 32 officers. More resignations are expected, bringing the likely total to 30 officers, he said.

The city does not have the same circumstances as nearby cities such as New Hope or Golden Valley, and their police budgets are not directly comparable, Edwards said.

Other budget details

The Fire Department accounted for 8% of expenditures, while public works accounted for 18%.

A wage increase for all part-time and seasonal workers to $16.16 accounted for $155,000 of the increase.

Reductions in charges for service in recreation and parks programming, as well as reduced fines in policing, resulted in a $213,000 increase.

The debt service levy increased by $251,114.

Estimated taxable market values increased in the city, with residential properties seeing a 17.2% increase. While apartment complexes saw an 11.5% increase in taxable value, commercial properties decreased by 5.4%.

Residential properties bear 52.6% of the total tax capacity. Commercial properties bear 22.5%, while apartments make up 13.5% and industrial properties account for 11.4%.

Councilmember April Graves spoke in favor of approving the budget.

“Even though we work with a very moderate budget and have many big-city issues, I think the city staff has done a wonderful job over the years, both being able to move forward on initiatives that the council thinks are important and maybe haven’t always considered to be part of the typical services that cities provide, but trying to be responsive to the needs of our community,” she said. “It’s got to sometimes be a staged approach.”

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