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Minneapolis, Hennepin County approve budget cuts
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Public works services like snowplowing and street repair may take longer to provide in Minneapolis because of the city's budget cuts. (MPR file photo)
Minneapolis city officials say residents can expect fewer firefighters to show up at emergency calls, fewer police staff at community meetings and working in schools, and it will take longer to make some street repairs. A divided City Council approved a series of job cuts Tuesday to account for a proposed $21 million cut in state aid. At the same time, Hennepin County officials approved $27 million in cuts to their budget, reducing more than 300 jobs, mostly at the county's hospital.

Minneapolis, Minn. — About 160 Minneapolis employees are expected to lose their jobs. The police department, the largest single city budget item, will lose 69 workers. Of those, 25 are sworn police officers. In the fire department, 55 firefighters will also be laid off.

The cuts in these public safety areas come even after council members shifted an extra $2 million from other departments to police and fire. That move created deep political divisions, evident in the final vote of 8-5. Council Member Barret Lane said it erases the gains made during a year-long effort to make level-headed budget decisions.

"Everything is now negotiable again. We are back to 1999. We are back to 2000 and we are back to the political process. If you don't like the political process, fire up the phone tree, jangle our cages down here and we will cave in," Lane said.

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Image Council Member Gary Schiff

Council Member Gary Schiff, however, maintained the shift to public safety reflects the give-and-take of the political process.

"We have not retreated. What we've instead done is embraced the idea of talking to people about the impact our actions have, in making sure that we're making the best decisions," said Schiff. "Not on some business plan that's been stapled and copied and put on people's desks, but actually looking at the impact our decision has on people's lives."

Dan Niziolek agrees. He said the plan to map out the financial picture over the next five years was drafted before the governor proposed cuts in state aid that takes away $21 million Minneapolis had otherwise included in this year's budget.

"As you get deeper and deeper into the cuts, you have to save certain areas than other areas because of the critical importance it is to the city of Minneapolis -- that being public safety," said Niziolek.

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Image Hennepin County board

City employees are having a hard time accepting the layoffs. Police Union President John Delmonico said reductions in overtime pay, training, manager positions and equipment costs would have prevented the loss of officers on the street.

"I submitted a plan to the mayor, the chief and all the council that would reduce the number of sworn layoffs to zero," Delmonico said. "It's apparantly fallen on deaf ears. And this is a devastating day for the citizens of Minneapolis."

Delmonico said the cuts have a devastating impact on staff morale and public perceptions of safety. In addition to layoffs, the city will leave hundreds of jobs vacant. Police officials say close to 100 additional positions in that department will go unfilled by the end of the year.

Elections officials expect longer lines for next year's presidential contest because of fewer election judges. Repairs to street lights and potholes will be delayed, because Public Works must move around more than 80 jobs internally to avoid layoffs.

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Image Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat

While Minneapolis was struggling to finalize its plan, Hennepin County officials were outlining layoffs of their own. The county is cutting $27 million. The largest single cut, $11 million, is to the Health Department, mostly at the Hennepin County Medical Center.

Board Chairman Mike Opat called proposed cuts in state emergency room reimbursements for poor patients unfair.

"We're in particular danger at the hospital. We are a public teaching hospital in an urban environment. We have a lot of poor patients. We are also the hospital everyone is looking at to prepare for some sort of national emergency. And we need some help from the state on that," said Opat.

HCMC officials are moving to cut 190 jobs. Even after accounting for existing vacancies and possible early retirements, the hospital expects to lay off up to 60 people.

The county's Human Services department is reduced $10 million, with 66 job cuts. County officials say cuts at the state will also increase the number of people without health insurance and other subsidized medical assistance. Those people, officials say, will start showing up at the HCMC emergency room. They don't know yet what the added cost of treating them will be.

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