Fighting City Hall – Neighborhood Revitalization Program versus City of Minneapolis

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What happens after the December 14 city government decision to freeze Neighborhood Revitalization Program Phase II funding? That question is at the center of NRP protests, and a city decision to form a new Neighborhood Funding Work Group. The Work Group will join the NRP policy board, the Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR) city department, the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission (NCEC), and various city departments and city council committees in the battle over continuing Phase II NRP funding for neighborhood programs. At stake: millions of dollars for neighborhood organizations and programs ranging from home improvement loans and commercial corridor development to graffiti removal and recycling programs.

The story starts back in 1990, when the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) was authorized by the state legislature as a 20-year, $20 million per year program funded by tax increment financing (TIF) in two phases through 2009.  The program has been administered by an NRP Policy Board made up of representatives of the five governing jurisdictions (city, county, school district, parks and library) and representatives from neighborhoods and non-profit agencies.

While collection of TIF funds for NRP ended in 2009, not all of the Phase II funds have been spent. Planning and spending did not proceed at the same rate in all neighborhoods. In particular, poorer neighborhoods often took longer to organize and plan for these Phase II projects, though some Phase II funds remain for many neighborhoods. Neighborhood proposals for Phase II projects continue to be considered and approved by the NRP Policy Board.

In 2008, the legislature approved new TIF financing, to begin in 2011 and run through 2020. This new Consolidated TIF District revenue was designated for neighborhood revitalization purposes (approximately $10 – $12 million per year) and to pay down debt on the city-owned Target Center (approximately $10 – $12 million per year).

 

  The next NCEC meetings are:

Wednesday, February 9, 5-6:30 p.m.
(Committee of the Whole)
Location: TBD

Tuesday, February 22, 5-7 p.m.
North Regional Library
1315 Lowry Ave. N.
Minneapolis , 55411
612.630.6600

For more meeting information, see NCEC website

Meanwhile, city leaders and neighborhood advocates wrestled with decisions about continuing neighborhood funding. An NRP Work Group, established in 2007, completed a Framework for the Future, which was adopted by the city council in 2008.   The Framework created a new city department, Neighborhood and Community Relations (NCR), established under the Minneapolis City Coordinator’s office.  It also created a 16-member advisory task force, the Neighborhood and Community Engagement Commission (NCEC) with eight elected and eight appointed members. Of those members, the city council would appoint five, the mayor would appoint two, the park and recreation board would appoint one, and neighborhood organizations in eight districts would each elect one member.

A consolidation plan to move all neighborhood programs under NCR was hammered out in 2010, over the objections of many NRP loyalists.  Under the plan, the NRP Policy Board would continue to administer Phase II funds for a time, but would be phased out beginning in 2011.  Meanwhile, NCR would begin administering the programs designed under the Framework and funded through the new Consolidated TIF District.  NCR would staff up as NRP staffed down, and eventually all functions would be consolidated within the city department.

The NCR, now a city department, drafted plans for new neighborhood programs scheduled to begin in 2011.  The department is currently reviewing the first batch of applications from neighborhood organizations for the Community Participation Program (CPP), while planning continues for Neighborhood Investment Funds (with priorities based on neighborhood plans) and Community Innovation Funds (with priorities set by the city.)

All things related to neighborhood programs took an unexpected turn on December 14 due to a Staff Direction contained in a footnote to the city’s 2011 budget, requested by Mayor R.T. Rybak and passed by the city council.

The first effect of the Staff Direction was to immediately freeze certain NRP Phase II funds and re-purpose those funds to finance the NCR and new neighborhood programs in 2012-13.
The direction includes a plan to amend the city’s state legislative agenda to “seek legislation consolidating neighborhood programs and eliminating the need for the Joints Powers Board” that governs NRP.  The Staff Direction instructed NCR and NCEC to consider equity issues between neighborhoods in light of the suspension of Phase II funds and

report back to City Council by March 1, 2011, on how programs, including the Neighborhood Investment Fund and the Community Innovation Fund, will be implemented moving forward with an emphasis on mitigating equity issues among neighborhoods related to the suspension of new contracts.

Additionally, the Staff Direction seeks to reduce by half the amount of revenue from the new Consolidated TIF District in 2012-2013, designating the revenue to pay Target Center debt and allowing the reduction to provide property tax relief in those two years, instead of funding neighborhood programs.  These changes will require legislative approval.

In January, the City Council established a Neighborhood Funding Work Group to address issues resulting from the Staff Direction. The makeup of the work group includes City Council President Barbara Johnson and Vice President Robert Lilligren, Chairs of Ways and Means/Budget Committee and Intergovernmental Relations Committees (Betsy Hodges and Sandy Colvin Roy), NCR Director David Rubedor, along with Directors of Finance, Communication, and Intergovernmental Relations and a Mayoral representative.

Noticeably absent from the work group is any representative of the NRP Policy Board or the NCEC.  On December 20, the NRP board rejected the entire process and voted to stop all collaboration with NCR and NCEC and to continue allocating Phase II funds. The NRP board also authorized its staff to seek legislation to protect the city’s taking of Phase II funds, and to work with any neighborhood organization that would bring a legal challenge against the city, according to a January 24 StarTribune report.

The NCEC struggled to define “equity issues among neighborhoods” at its January 12 Committee of the Whole meeting.  A recent post on the City’s NCR web page states that”[i]n the coming weeks and months, the NCEC will seek neighborhood engagement and input on how to address equity and programming issues among neighborhoods.”  Several commission members noted at the January 12 meeting, however, that gaining meaningful citizen input by the March 1 date is “not do-able.”