City, residents at odds over NRP

Neighborhood groups offer alternative plan to city’s proposal

Acting on legislation passed last session to provide a funding stream, the City of Minneapolis has announced a plan to extend the Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NRP) — the backbone of grassroots community organization funding for the last 20 years — with Mayor R.T. Rybak “committing” $8 million a year, for 10 years, to support it.

Still, opposition from a group of neighborhood organizations continues to be vehement. A coalition of residents from around the city called Neighbors4NRP presented an alternative proposal and has asked the City Council to postpone decision on what they see as a fatally flawed proposal that will spell the end of NRP.

What is NRP?

The Neighborhood Revitalization Program, now nearing the end of its second 10-year phase, funds neighborhood organizations’ administration (staffing, office space, etc.) and a wide range of projects and programs through revenue from development projects in tax-increment finance (TIF) districts. Last session, the Legislature voted to extend those districts for another 10 years, to fund NRP and also pay down the debt on the Target Center.

The city’s ‘framework’ plan

At the end of July, the City Council received the final report of the “Framework of the Future” from the NRP Work Group, which includes four council members, a mayoral aide and NRP Director Bob Miller (who has publicly opposed the proposal). The framework would reorganize NRP under a new city department of Neighborhood and Community Relations in the City Coordinator’s Office, to be overseen by a Neighborhood and Community Advisory Board consisting of 18 members — nine selected by neighborhood groups and nine appointed by the City Council (7) and mayor (2).

Funds would be allocated through a non-competitive Neighborhood Investment Fund (NIF) for neighborhood-designated priorities and a smaller Community Investment Fund (CIF), from which neighborhood associations could apply for grants to pay for other initiatives.

An earlier draft of the framework, posted on the city’s website, includes line-item responses by Neighbors4NRP from an earlier round of public comment. Major concerns included a lack of specificity about long-term funding, insufficient funding levels, and a lack of involvement by residents and other non-city entities on the proposed centralized governance body.

(The current NRP Policy Board includes representatives from neighborhoods, the city, Hennepin County, the School Board, the Park Board, state legislators and “community interest groups” — a multi-jurisdictional makeup that opponents of the framework want to see continue.)

The funding question

At an Aug. 12 press conference, Rybak “committed” $8 million a year for the program for ten years, beginning in 2011, from TIF revenue (see sidebar). Each year, $3 million would be split between neighborhood groups and the new city department (which would include other city services) for administrative support, with $5 million in discretionary funding going to the NIF (90 percent) and CIF (10 percent).

City officials estimate $24 million in revenue annually from the recertification of all eligible TIF projects, though a smaller percentage might be leveraged. The remainder, beyond the $8 million, would go towards debt restructuring to pay for the Target Center, and perhaps property tax relief for residents.

Bob Cooper, senior NRP/citizen participation specialist with the city’s Finance Department, provided a rundown of current NRP spending. Though cut-and-dry amounts are difficult to nail down, NRP Phase II estimates over a nine-year span show annual allocations of $3,449,028 for discretionary funding — $1.55 million less than proposed by the mayor.

Current administrative funding is even more difficult to calculate. Estimates of neighborhood-group administration spending range from $1,158,976 to $3 million per year, depending on which costs and allocations are included. In addition, $1,731,558 per year was spent between 2001 and 2008 on central NRP administration (which the proposed city department would replace). That’s roughly $2.9 million–$4.7 million for centralized and neighborhood administration, compared to the $3 million proposed by the mayor.

The mayor’s funding is a best-case scenario of maximized TIF revenue, with “final allocation decisions” up to the mayor and City Council, according to the framework report.

The rub

It’s uncertain what NRP activities are allowed by the legislative action. According to an Aug. 4 report from the city attorney’s office, the legislation contains “ambiguities” and may preclude the use of TIF funding for administration. It is also unclear if the funds could be used for programs such as the home-improvement revolving loans widely offered through NRP.

There is also question as to how the current NRP Phase II will be funded until the framework plan begins in 2011. Until then, the mayor’s budget proposal includes $500,000 a year to create the new city department and provide neighborhood organizations with funding. Opponents want the current NRP administrative structure to continue to oversee the transition — and long afterwards, for that matter.

Also in question is the financial contribution of current NRP partners. While framework opponents say those partners are frozen out of the framework plan, the city has essentially asked those partners to put their money where their mouths are, requesting that each to vote to allocate funds — $12 million a year from Hennepin County and $4 million each from the Park Board, School Board and state.

The other plan

The alternative plan drafted by Neighbors4NRP puts more power and funding in the hands of neighborhood organizations than the city’s framework allows for.

The plan calls for at least $10 million a year in discretionary funding, from maximized TIF revenues, with all future interest and program income going back into the fund. The city would administer another fund, above and beyond the $10 million, for which neighborhoods would compete.

In addition, at least $3 million would come from the city’s general fund annually for operating expenses.

A “restructured and renamed” NRP policy board would govern the program, made up of eight neighborhood representatives, five City Council and mayoral appointees and one appointee each from the county, Park Board, School Board and Legislature. The NRP director would be hired by and report to the policy board.

Some aspects of the two plans are similar. Neighborhoods would set priorities through plans similar to current NRP Action Plans, and funds would be distributed through a formula similar to the one in place. The alternative plan’s funding pools mirror those proposed by the city, but with notable differences in the amounts and sources of funding.

Neighbor4NRP expressed “qualified support” for some parts of the framework, including the proposed resident advisory board and city department, as well as changes that could eventually lead to the merging of NRP “with a successful new community engagement structure in the future.”

Still, at the Aug. 20 hearing, a long list of residents spoke almost unanimously against the framework. Many aligned themselves with Neighbors4NRP, which claims the support of nearly half the city’s 72 active neighborhood groups.

A few elected officials joined them, including Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman, who chairs the NRP Policy Board, and state legislators Rep. Karen Clark and Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, who both championed NRP at the Legislature. All three praised the city for its work to extend NRP but moved quickly to concerns about the framework.

“I have seen the transition of grassroots models into government entities,” said Torres Ray, “and they really lose the perspective of residents’ involvement.”

Melanie Majors, executive director of the Longfellow Community Council, said that NRP “represents the will” of residents and communities. “Through their NRP plans, we’ve seen what they prioritize,” she said. “This framework has derailed that, and I think that’s disrespectful.”

Many characterized the framework as an attack on NRP, with one speaker calling it “a thinly veiled process through which city officials will dismantle NRP and cripple most neighborhood organizations.”

After the hearing, Ward 6 Council Member Robert Lilligren (who chairs the NRP Work Group and the City Council’s Committee of the Whole) told The Bridge that the general theme that the city would be “taking away” NRP was based on “misinformation.” NRP was founded as a 20-year program, “so this is essentially the succession planning,” he said.

Public comment on the Framework for the Future can be submitted until Sept. 11 via email to anissa.hollingshead@ci.minneapolis.mn.us or by mail to Council Committee Clerk, 350 South 5th Street, Room 304, Minneapolis, MN 55415.

The Committee of the Whole is expected to take up the issue again on Sept. 11, followed by the full City Council on Sept. 26.

You can read the city’s Framework for the Future report here, and the Neighbors4NRP alternative plan at www.neighbors4nrp.com.

last revised: September 2, 2009