LAST WEEK IN the Star Tribune, Minneapolis City Council members made their most open complaints about the $20 million a year Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP), citing bloated administrative expenses in neighborhood plans and misplaced priorities. And I quote: "'Phillips is a classic case,' said Council Member Joe Biernat, noting that the neighborhood has one of the city's highest crime rates but is spending just $536,755 on crime and safety programs while devoting more than $1.6 million over five years to arts, cultural and ethnic programs."
Unknowing readers weren't told about one of NRP's basic premises: "Money cannot be used to fund ongoing city services, such as police protection," according to NRP Policy Board member Gretchen Nicholls. "And even if it did, that spending would go away after just a few years. NRP is about long-term improvement." Reporter Kevin Diaz didn't even consider another possibility: Citizens may believe crime spending brings diminishing returns, compared to other, largely unfunded, areas--exactly the kind of policy holes that NRP was supposed to identify and help fill.
But even as Big Media criticizes growing neighborhood "administrative expenses" that may build grassroots organizing and economic development, City Hall mandarins are looking to grab some of the NRP bucks back. According to NRP's proposed 1996 budget, $500,000 will go directly to the coffers of the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA).
Originally, NRP was designed to reform agencies such as the MCDA from without; neighborhoods would identify new priorities and the MCDA would redirect its existing budget. "Now, starting next year, we pay them for seven full-time jobs, as well as legal expenses from development they have previously covered," says Nicholls.
Neighborhood activists worry that the MCDA money grab represents a back-door means of sweetening the agency's development honey pot. Council members have long used the agency to fund pet projects and downtown development, but the money has slowed following the '80s building boom, and much of it is tied up in the grassroots of NRP. That last part was by design; an NRP premise was to lock in money for neighborhoods, many of whom missed out on 1980s trickle-down.
Minneapolis City Council member Lisa McDonald believes that the MCDA has responded to NRP, and a new infusion of funds is fair because the agency has added expenses with its growing neighborhood focus. "We pay neighborhood developer a fee for their projects. The MCDA should get the same support when they aid more neighborhood development," says McDonald, who adds that the council approved such funding principles last year. "It's much harder dealing with all the interest in neighborhood projects, rather than downtown projects, where there are fewer players."
However, McDonald acknowledges that the MCDA has not increased staffing because of NRP programs; one colleague, council member Jim Niland, has his doubts about the reallocation. "Funding seven staff positions seems excessive," he says. For her part, NRP Policy Board member Nicholls says City Hall bureaucracies have not been able to quantify their expenses, something she hopes will happen before any neighborhood money is diverted.
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