Fait accompli

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Last week, the Minneapolis City Council very quietly approved an increase in the annual fee landlords pay for the right to rent their property. The action is expected to generate an additional $187,000 in revenue, which will help city inspectors keep up with their daunting schedule of rental inspections.

That’s all well and good. It’s reasonable to expect that fees cover the cost of a city service. What’s not reasonable is to pretend that there’s an open debate on a fee increase when the revenue from that increase has already been written into the budget.

This was the case with the rental fee increase. Apparently, the inspections department requested that the added revenue be reflected in the 2006-2007 budget before said fee increase was even discussed in committee.

That rightly irked some property owners, including the ubiquitous Steve Schachtman, who told a Public Safety and Regulatory Services Committee (PS & RS) public hearing earlier this month that the city’s soft rental market has him collecting rents at 2001 levels and he wasn’t crazy about helping to close the city’s budget gap–especially given that the decision was already made before the public hearing was even scheduled.

Council members, including Ways and Means chair Paul Ostrow, vowed to correct the process before the next budget cycle, but that provides little comfort to area landlords who might have wanted to challenge the fee this time around. It was also instructive to notice that most council members were not even aware of the snafu in the first place. One would think that someone from PS & RS–perhaps chair Don Samuels–or someone from the mayor’s office would have been engaged enough in the budget process to see the problem in budgeting revenue before a fee increase had been passed.

It’s this sort of snafu that tends to contribute to the city’s reputation as a horrible place to do business. And, despite all the hype around the so-called “One-Stop” program designed to improve that reputation, the city continues to operate in ways that generate more skepticism than hope.

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