Mpls. Cuts Firefighters, Looks to Reserve Account

Minneapolis leaders have proposed transferring $1.75 million from the city's contingency account to help mitigate the effects of cuts to state aid-including the need for layoffs.

The City of Minneapolis on Tuesday announced that Mayor R.T. Rybak and City Council President Barbara Johnson proposed transferring $1.75 million from the city's contingency account to the fire and police departments in order to reduce layoffs-although 10 layoffs in the fire department are still necessary.

The move comes shortly after the city announced a series of cuts to make up for $23 million in local government aid (LGA) that was lost under the state budget agreement reached by legislators on July 20. The budget deal gave the city $64 million in LGA in 2011, compared to the $87.5 million that was originally approved by the state.

“We have said for years that the Legislature's cuts to Minneapolis have negative, real-life consequences, including on public safety,” Rybak and Johnson said in a joint statement, adding that they must now “reluctantly” make cuts to both the fire and police departments but that those cuts can be mitigated using the contingency funds.

They said that dipping into the city's reserves and transferring $1.1 million to the fire department would save 31 firefighter jobs and allow continued operations without needing to close a station. Even with those funds, however, the department would need to eliminate 13 positions-10 of which would come through layoffs.

Rybak and Johnson also proposed transferring $650,000 to the police department, which would eliminate the need for layoffs in that department.

The city council must now approve Rybak and Johnson's proposal to transfer the money.

Rybak and Johnson blame the state Legislature's LGA allocation for the cuts, but a report by the Star Tribune points out that fire union President Mark Lakosky puts the blame on Rybak. He says the number of sworn firefighters has fallen from about 469 in 2003-Rybak's first budget-to 401. He also warned that response times might increase given the smaller staff.