Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Weathering the coming storm
If current forecasts are to be believed, it appears that thousands of snow plow drivers and public safety personnel in Minnesota will be spending Christmas weekend working overtime. Please take a moment this holiday season to thank a local police officer, firefighter, or snow plow operator for all they do to keep us safe and to keep our streets and highways running smoothly in adverse conditions. Though they would likely prefer to be home with their families for the holidays, these dedicated public employees provide vital services (24/7/365) that we often take for granted.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Who's who for 2010?
For political junkies, a list of current and former Minnesota city officials who intend to seek state-level offices in 2010. (Compiled by a colleague at the League of Minnesota Cities)

State Constitutional Offices
Pat [Awada] Anderson, once an Eagan Mayor, running for Governor. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, running for Governor. Randy Gilbert, Mayor of Long Lake, running for State Auditor .

State Legislature HD 10B – Former Wadena Council Member Pete Phillips (ended council service 12/31/2008) is making a second run for MN House in 2010. HD 14A - Sartell Mayor Tim O’Driscoll filed paperwork to run for the Republican nomination for the state House of Representatives seat held by Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids. SD 26 - Waseca businessman Mike Parry is seeking the Republican endorsement in an upcoming special election to fill District 26 seat vacated by Sen. Dick Day. Parry served on Waseca’s City Council from 2004 to 2008. HD 37B – Rosemount City Council Member Kurt Bills has announced his intent to become the Republican candidate for the 37B House of Representatives seat in 2010. SD48 – Nowthen City Council Member Laurie Olmon is running for State Senate in 2010 for Senate District 48 against Mike Jungbauer. SD53 - Blake Huffman, Shoreview City Council Member, intends to run for state office, most likely State Senate or State Representative.

You can also link to the list of current legislators with city ties on the League's website

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Cities get reprieve from additional December aid cuts...but what next?
In a letter sent to the League of Minnesota Cities earlier today, Governor Tim Pawlenty announced that he will not use unallotment to further reduce or delay December local government aid (LGA) and market value homestead credit (MVHC) payments scheduled for cities and counties.

The decision followed a meeting last Friday at the League offices where representatives from the League and other city organizations met with Department of Revenue Commissioner Ward Einess to express concern about the state budget deficit and the status of the Governor’s response.

This is indeed good news for cities that have had aid and credit payments cut twice, already, in the past 12 months. As noted many times in this blog, city councils in the state have responded to these cuts by making their own cuts to city service budgets – particularly in public safety (police and fire), public works (streets and sewers), and parks and recreation departments. But, unless there is sudden and dramatic improvement in the state’s economy, more city service cuts could be on the way. And, more city personnel could lose jobs.

In the letter received today, the Governor made clear that the state is still facing a serious $1.2 billion projected budget deficit that will require significant remedial action by the 2010 legislature. He also warned that 2010 aid and credit payments to cities could yet be additionally reduced to address the deficit, but he indicated that he would work with legislative leaders to develop a response to the projected deficit.

There is no quick or easy answer to solving our state’s budget crisis. But cities have been called upon time-and-time again to bear a disproportionate contribution to the solution. The 2010 Legislative Session looms as an important one for the future of funding city services in our state.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Newspapers weigh-in on executive authority and executive proposal
Because of the amicus briefing filed by Minnesota House Democrats in support of a recent lawsuit challenging Governor Pawlenty's unallotment authority, the case has overwhelmingly been portrayed by pundits and bloggers as a political grudge match. While there is no denying the political intrigue involved, perhaps the larger and more neglected question is one of legality. Over the past few days, editorials in the Albert Lea Tribune and Bemidji Pioneer weigh-in on pursuing the answer to that question. Meanwhile, the Tribune also reprinted an editorial from the Grand Forks Herald taking the Governor to task for his proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a restrictive cap on state spending. Ditto for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Budgets, Unallotment and Litigation--What is a city to do?
By Gary Carlson, Intergovernmental Relations Director, League of Minnesota Cities
At last week’s hearing of the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy Subcommittee on a Balanced Budget, Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson strongly suggested that the state would face an additional deficit announced with the release of the state budget forecast on December 2. Although he didn’t indicate whether additional unallotment reductions will be likely, the state’s precarious fiscal condition should be of great concern to city officials as they plan their budgets for 2010 and beyond.

The likelihood of an additional December unallotment of 2009 LGA and MVHC or additional legislative cuts to 2010 LGA and MVHC would probably increase with the size of the announced state deficit. Given that the state budget does not technically need to be balanced until the end of the current biennium on June 30, 2011, the Governor could certainly wait until the Legislature convenes in February and allow them to take the necessary actions.

However, the state is facing an uncertain cash flow challenge that could require the state to borrow money on a short-term basis---unless action is taken by the Governor or Legislature to reschedule or reduce existing state appropriations.

Another wild card is the pending legal challenge to the Governor’s $2.7 billion unallotment that was filed on October 29. That legal challenge is focused, in part, on the Governor’s authority to rewrite the formula for the renters refund program and another, small nutrition program. However, the complaint also challenges a basic premise upon which the unallotments were based. The unallotment statute requires that “probable receipts for the general fund will be less than anticipated.” The complaint suggests that the state budget deficit was known long before the 2009 legislative session and as a result, unallotment authority was improperly used by the Governor to balance the state’s projected deficit.

If the judge ultimately rules in favor of the plaintiff on this larger, foundational issue of whether the deficit was “unanticipated,” it is possible that the Governor’s entire $2.7 billion unallotment could be invalid. In other words, 2009 LGA and MVHC cuts could conceivably be restored and the 2010 unallotments would also be restored—at least temporarily.

This outcome would leave the state with an immense deficit that the legislature would have to quickly address. Under this scenario, the Governor could call an immediate special session, or he could simply wait and let the Legislature solve the budget deficit when they reconvene next February. Based on the events of the 2009 session and the budget proposals developed by each body, that exercise could be contentious and any solution would likely involve broad cuts in state appropriations, including LGA and MVHC.

In summary, city officials should watch carefully as the state budget forecast is announced in December. In addition, the pending litigation surrounding the Governor’s use of unallotment to balance the state deficit could have a significant bearing on the state as well as city budgets.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Help available for communities preparing for tidal wave of aging Boomers
Recently, a presenter from the Central Minnesota Council on Aging warned officials from the City of Royalton of an oncoming "Silver Tsunami"--driven by the fact that every seven seconds there is someone born of the Baby Boomer generation that turns 61 years old. With rapidly aging population bases, cities will be challenged to adapt services and upgrade infrastructure to accommodate the the unique needs of older Americans. Yet, there are few communities adequately prepared for the "Tsunami." To help Minnesota communities better prepare for the dramatic demographic shift, the Minnesota Board on Aging has published a booklet on fostering "Communities for a Lifetime." The booklet includes useful case studies about successful city initiatives in our state, to date, and is compelling reading for municipal officials as well as those simply interested in demographic trends in aging. The League of Minnesota Cities also recommends useful resources on this topic.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

November 3 municipal elections
For Minnesota voters wanting to learn the location of their polling place for Tuesday's elections, the State Secretary of State's Office has launched a Polling Place Finder web site. The SOS expects a voter turnout of nearly a half-million next week. Numerous city council, mayoral, and school board seats are at stake.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Even in tough economic times, cities need the arts
Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede, who is currently the President of the League of Minnesota Cities, is devoting his League presidential initiative for 2009-2010 to a discussion of why arts matter to Minnesota communities. In a recent Minnesota Cities magazine commentary piece, the Mayor explains why.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

2009 Property Tax Report details revenue challenges faced by Minnesota cities
The League of Minnesota Cities has released its annual Property Tax Report, and it shows a weak residential housing market further adding to revenue challenges imposed by state cuts to city aid and credits, and levy limits. According to the report, city tax capacity grew by only 2.3 percent last year--a 71 percent slower growth than between 2007 and 2008. Additionally, it notes that the slowdown in market value growth has become more pronounced in the past year. Look here for additional resources, including a city-by-city breakdown of tax capacity and total market value, a property tax calculator, and background materials that help to explain the complex property tax system.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Cities increasingly turning to social media for info sharing
A growing number of Minnesota city officials are employing social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to facilitate communication with residents and others. For example, cities are using the tools to make announcements about upcoming meetings and events, as well as project updates, and to connect followers with recent city-related news. Some cities are using social media as a portal to the city’s official website so followers can access more in-depth information on a topic. In many cases, cities are using social media to support work they already are doing.

For those interested in following, an informal search showed that the following cities maintain official Facebook pages: Blaine, Burnsville, Chanhassen, Eden Prairie, Hibbing, Mankato, Mapleton, Marshall, Minneapolis, New Brighton, Red Wing, St. Paul, and Wadena.

And, these cities use Twitter accounts: Alexandria, Blaine, Delano, Detroit Lakes, Grand Marais, Grand Rapids, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Mountain Iron, St. Charles, St. Paul, Waseca, Winona, and Wyoming.

For cities considering using social media tools, LMCIT recommends reading, "Social Media and Cities: Questions and Considerations," Developing a Computer Use Policy” and “Electronic Communications Between Council Members,” which provide sample policies that can be used as a group to help prevent city missteps around social media, use of public technology, and some of the unique issues related to elected officials.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What do city services actually cost?
For the average household, a lot less than cable TV service a or cell phone plan. The City of Woodbury is among one of several Minnesota cities that includes a comparative cost chart of city services on its municipal web site. For instance, the average household in Woodbury pays $248 per year for police protection, only $63 for fire protection, and $24 for street lights, among other services. Compare those costs to a year of broadband internet service at $719, or a daily newspaper subscription at $234. Or, as the site notes, "On average, a Woodbury homeowner would spend more for cable TV service ($761) than the combined cost of police and fire protection; street reconstruction and Public Works operations such as snow plowing; and parks, trails, and recreation services." At a time when some households are struggling to make-ends-meet, city residents continue to receive quality services at reasonable prices.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Weekly round-up
The City of Mendota Heights chose a new administrator, and the Police Chief of Apple Valley was named as Officer of the Year. While city officials throughout the state remain concerned about state budget deficits, Governor Pawlenty said that he believes deficit projections are overblown. Meanwhile, members of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities sought to bring local government aid to the front burner among issues to be discussed by candidates for governor in 2010. A single job posted by the City of Moorhead attracted 117 applicants, and seven city employees were recently laid-off in the City of Minnetonka. And, more Minnesota cities considered administering utility fees to offset revenue losses.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

14 reasons why property taxes go up or down from year to year
As cities work through the processes of setting levies and planning budgets for 2010, homeowners are likely wondering what those processes will mean for next year's property taxes. A couple of years ago, the Association of Minnesota Counties, Minnesota School Boards Association, and League of Minnesota Cities partnered to produce a short video and informational brochure describing the reasons why the amount you pay for property taxes is different each year. A summary of those reasons is listed below. A copy of the video may also be found on the City of St. Paul's web site.

1. The market value of a property may change.
2. The market value of other properties in your taxing district may change, shifting taxes from one property to another.
3. The state general property tax may change.
4. The city budget and levy may change.
5. The township budget and levy may change.
6. The county budget and levy may change.
7. The school district's budget and levy may change.
8. A special district's budget and levy may change.
9. Special assessments may be added to your property tax bill.
10. Voters may have approved a school, city/township, county, or special district referendum.
11. Federal and state mandates may have changed.
12. Aid and revenue from the state and federal governments may have changed.
13. The state legislature may have changed the portion of the tax base paid by different types of properties.
14. Other state law changes may adjust the tax base.

Reason #12, of course, has special significance this year (and, perhaps, for years to come) in light of the Governor's recent unallotment of local government aid payments and market value homestead credits, affecting the vast majority of Minnesota city budgets. That unfortunate decision has already been responsible for proposed property tax increases and significant service cuts in several Minnesota cities for 2010.

Does all of this sound complicated? It is, but there are additional resources here, here, and here for those wanting to learn more about Minnesota's property tax system.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Weekly round-up
A Star Tribune story notes that Minnesota cities are considering a variety of revenue and cost-cutting strategies to compensate for lost state aids and a downturn in general revenue as a result of the slumping economy. A subsequent editorial lauds cities for their progress, to date, in tackling the issue. After opposition from local business groups, the Mounds View City Council rejected a proposal requiring businesses to formally register with the city. Additionally, 2010 budget discussions continued in the cities of Milaca, Princeton, Fridley, Faribault, Brownton, and others. Meanwhile, the Austin Public library set a one-month record for material check-outs and renewal of items, according to library officials.

Friday, September 11, 2009

State Fair bean counters choose city funding priorities
On Friday of last week at the Minnesota State Fair, the Cities Matter campaign (a project of the League of Minnesota Cities) invited fairgoers to choose up to six of eight city service funding priorities by casting votes with six beans at the Cities Matter display table. More than 1,000 people accepted the invitation. Here is what they selected:

Police-- 1,163
Clean Water-- 1,021
Fire-- 781
Park and Rec-- 762
Libraries-- 741
Streets & Sidewalks-- 710
Senior Services-- 626
Sewer-- 586

The goal of this bean-poll was not to demonstrate that any one service is decisively more important than another. Rather, it gave participants a simulated opportunity to take part in the same kind of decision-making process that elected and appointed officials face every year at budgeting times--allocating scarce dollars among a variety of important services. In light of recent state aid cuts to cities, budget balancing becomes even more challenging. Participants commented that the bean-poll exercise was "difficult" and "thought-provoking." It also illustrated that--when it comes to budget-cutting--there are no good choices. Any choice made has consequences for the quality of life among city residents.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thirteen cities receive awards
The Minnesota Community Pride competition has awarded 13 Minnesota cities cash prizes ranging from $250 to $1,000 for outstanding achievements in community improvement. The awards were announced last weekend at the Minnesota State Fair. Best of Class winners included the cities of Lanesboro, Glencoe, and Willmar as well as the Greater Staples area.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Visit Cities Matter at the State Fair
Cities Matter, a project of the League of Minnesota Cities, will have a display table at the Minnesota Public Radio tent located in the State Fair's Carousel Park on Friday, Sept. 4th from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Stop by and learn more about the important services provided by cities in our state.

Friday, August 21, 2009

See you in September
I'm taking a short end-of-summer break from writing. Look for my next post on or around September 3rd. Thanks. --Don R.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Weekly Round-up
The mayors of both St. Paul and Minneapolis unveiled their budget proposals for 2010 this week. Minneapolis plans to cut spending across most departments while increasing property taxes by 6.6 percent. St. Paul will also utilize a mix of expenditure cuts and a levy increase to balance-the-books. Budget discussions also continued in Red Wing, Bemidji, St. Cloud, and Newport, among others.

Both the City of Verndale and the City of Cottage Grove are weighing the pros and cons of recent legislation that allows local units of government and the State Patrol to enforce low-level traffic offenses with administrative citations.

To become a city, or not--that's what the residents of Brockway Township debated earlier this week. The League of Minnesota cities web site includes a handy guide that describes what's involved with incorporation.

Meanwhile, the editorial board of the Mankato Free Press heaped praise on that city's Council for forming an advisory committee that "...gives immigrants and minorities who live (there) another way to connect to the community."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Saving $$$ easier said than done
Earlier this week, the Associated Press distributed a story to follow-up on the proposal made in January by Governor Tim Pawlenty and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle that, as a budget-balancing measure, state governments in Minnesota and Wisconsin would work together to find and implement cost-saving efficiencies through sharing and collaboration. The governors estimated potential budget-savings for each state at $10 million. After months of number-crunching, official estimates of actual savings to be gained will be closer to $100,000--or one-tenth of one percent of projected savings for a single state. State officials went on to say that more time will be needed to fully realize savings benefits.

This is not to belittle what appears to be a legitimate attempt to gain government efficiencies during particularly tough economic times. There are a couple of things worth noting, though. When Governor Pawlenty announced his local government aid and market value homestead credit unallotment plans for 2009, and for the 2010-2011 budget cycle as well, he insisted with great indignation that city officials should have no problem compensating for cuts simply by trimming a mere five percent (though for some cities it may be as much as 15 percent) of their budgets through salary freezes, program and administrative cuts, seeking efficiencies, and so forth. Furthermore, in the first round of unallotment, cities were expected to accomplish this immediately--during the current budget cycle (2009 state aid payments were unalloted in December 2008).

While cities have been particularly active in pursuing cost-casing measures since initial local government aid cuts in 2003, the fact remains that realizing immediate cash savings with no service consequences simply from rapid consolidation of services or trimming so-called "fat" from budgets requires a much more thoughtful approach than critics of local government might have you believe. For a variety of reasons, even the most effective service-sharing agreement among cities, or any government entities, may take years to come to fruition. Looks like state officials are slowly beginning to realize that.

Moreover, the present-day reality for Minnesota city governments is that there is no more "fat" left to cut. Despite the best efforts of local elected and appointed officials, city budget cuts--due to unallotment of state aids and the lagging economy--will ultimately affect city services. It may mean streets that go unplowed for longer periods of time, or slower reponse times for police calls, or reduced library services. Or, there may be more visible consequences. Read more about what goes into preparing a city budget.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Weekly Round-up
The Star Tribune reported that, to help cover revenue lost through Local Government Aid (LGA) cuts, the City of St. Francis is considering selling city parkland. Other Minnesota cities contemplated budget-balancing measures for 2009 and beyond, as well. The St. Paul Pioneer Press noted that the City of Burnsville plans to discontinue its vacant property registry, and the Northfield City Council City Council unanimously approved a wage freeze for city employees starting in 2010, according to the Northfield News. In other news, Congratulations to Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden for being honored with a President's Award from the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Mayor Wolden was cited for his role as a leading advocate and spokesperson in defense of preserving LGA for Minnesota Cities. The City of Chatfield announced some awards of its own--congratulations to the City for its recent LMC City of Excellence Award and to City Clerk Joel Young for his appointment to the state's LGA Study Group.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Red Wing’s budget input campaign
Minnesota cities are finding a variety of ways to reach out and engage their citizens in the work of the city. Here is a good example, reprinted from the most recent issue of Minnesota Cities magazine, of how active citizen engagement is happening around the state.

The City of Red Wing (population 16,338) recently embarked on a focused citizen engagement campaign to get input on the budget crisis resulting from looming cuts in state aid. According to Deanna Sheely, Red Wing communications director, it’s not unusual for the city to seek public input on projects, "but this was a monster. We’re looking at losing 15 to 18 percent of the budget. That means we can’t continue to provide all the services we’ve been providing. We wanted to know what residents think is least important and what they couldn’t do without." In an effort to get that input, the city hosted four public forums and conducted a survey (available in print and online). In addition, the city educated its residents about the situation in a variety of ways, including through educational presentations, articles in the city newsletter, and in news videos that air on the local government access channel as well as on YouTube.com and MySpace.com. "We had a total of about 500 people who either attended a public forum, completed a survey, or submitted input in some other way," says Sheely, who admits the process was not scientific.
"You tend to hear from the squeaky wheel" she says. "Also, you get very contradictory responses. Half might say get rid of the fire department, while the other half says we need more firefighters." Still, the city learned of some overwhelming public desires that helped them make decisions. Although this citizen engagement effort was focused on one topic, Sheely says she believes it will have broad and long-lasting effects. For one thing, during the public forums people learned a lot about the city and how it operates. The process also built more trust in the city government, especially since residents see that the city is already following through on some suggestions. For example, she says, the city newsletter came up high on the list of services to cut. So the city made changes that resulted in a savings of more than $10,000. Also, through this process, the city heard from many people who don’t usually speak up. "That’s exciting because it indicates a new level of interest in local government," Sheely says. "My hope is that people will stay engaged."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Taxing St. Peter to pay for St. Paul
It's not unusual for any Minnesotan to visit friends and relatives, to work, and/or to play in cities other than their city of residence on almost a daily basis. Is it reasonable, then, for Minnesotans to expect nearly the same quality of street maintenance, police protection, drinking water and other public services from city-to-city throughout the state? Local government aid (LGA) for cities was initiated more than 35 years ago, in part, to ensure that level of consistency. League of Minnesota Cities executive director Jim Miller addresses this issue in a commentary, shown below, that was originally published earlier this summer in Minnesota Cities magazine.

Why tax St. Peter to pay for St. Paul? This was the eye-catching title of a recent letter to the editor in the Star Tribune wherein the writer criticized local government aid (LGA) as an unwarranted example of wealth transfer. He posed the question of why, for example, citizens in Pine City should pay more in taxes to support services in Edina. He added that if residents in any community want services, they, not others, should pay for them.

In reality, the LGA program is intended to benefit those cities with relatively lower property wealth, not the reverse. Moreover, because the LGA appropriation is part of the much larger state budget setting dynamic, it is simplistic at best to generalize that residents in one community pay for services in another. In fact, state funding for all programs involves wealth transfer. (Complete article in pdf format...)

Friday, July 17, 2009

League honors 27 Minnesota lawmakers as 2009 Legislators of Distinction
The League of Minnesota Cities has selected 13 State Senators and 14 members of the Minnesota House of Representatives as Legislators of Distinction for 2009. The honor recognizes legislators for specific actions that aided efforts of Minnesota cities during the 2009 legislative session. Legislators of Distinction are chosen yearly to emphasize the fact that in order to successfully serve commonly-shared constituents, state and city officials must work together to meet the unique needs of rural, suburban, and urban main streets all across Minnesota. Legislators of Distinction for 2009 are:

Minnesota House of Representatives
Rep. Tony Cornish, R- Good Thunder
Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis
Rep. Kent Eken, DFL- Twin Valley
Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis
Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park
Rep. Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead
Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis
Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth
Rep. Mike Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park
Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids
Rep. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada
Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park
Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Nelson Township

Minnesota Senate
Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook
Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley
Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis
Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel
Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm
Sen. Ann Lynch, DFL-Rochester
Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth
Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope
Sen. Sandy Rummel, DFL-White Bear Lake
Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook
Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt

Friday, July 10, 2009

New state law affecting city traffic violations goes into effect soon
Just days after the 2009 legislative session adjourned, Gov. Pawlenty signed into law a bill (supported by the League of Minnesota Cities) that allows local units of government and the State Patrol to enforce low-level traffic offenses with administrative citations.

The new law will take effect Aug. 1, 2009. However, the State Department of Public Safety has until Oct. 1 to design the uniform administrative ticket. League staff has assembled a tool kit to assist cities that want to exercise the authority provided by this legislation.

The kit is designed for city officials and the casual viewer is likely to find it highly technical and dense. City residents may be interested, though, in the FAQ section (pages 4-6) that provides a basic description of how the new law will directly impact traffic violators.

Advantages of the new law:
--Administrative citations provide an alternative to warnings, which have no consequences, and costly state tickets, which some believe carry a disproportionate penalty for low-level offenses such as speeding less than 10 miles per hour above the posted limit.

--The use of administrative citations for low-level traffic offenses has been an effective public safety tool. Local law enforcement officers have used administrative citations for minor violations that might otherwise be warnings. Administrative citations have been shown to positively change driving behavior.

--Representatives of the courts have repeatedly stated that district courts are overburdened, and that they are facing unprecedented funding challenges. Given these conditions, it makes sense to keep low-level violations out of the district court system.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Four Minnesota cities honored for excellence
City-administered initiatives involving government collaborations, energy efficiency, information technology, and stormwater processes were recognized late last week when the League of Minnesota Cities announced City of Excellence Award winners for 2009. Nominations submitted by the cities of Chatfield, Elk River, Roseville, and St. Anthony were selected as winners from among two dozen entries in this year’s competition.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rochester Mayor Brede named as League of Minnesota Cities president
Rochester Mayor Ardell F. Brede was elected today to serve as the President of the League of Minnesota Cities for 2009-10. The election was held at the League’s Annual Conference in Saint Paul. Prior to election as League President, Mayor Brede served as First Vice President of the League and chaired the organization’s Environment Committee. He has also served on the Energy and Environment Committees for the National League of Cities, and on various issue committees for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Brede has been Mayor of Rochester since 2003, and is a former employee of the Mayo Clinic.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Governor cuts nearly $193 million in state aid to cities
This afternoon, Governor Pawlenty announced his plans to eliminate the remaining $2.7 billion state budget deficit. His plan includes $64.2 million in cuts to local government aid (LGA) and market value homestead credit (MVHC) reimbursement for cities in 2009, and $128.3 million in 2010 cuts. The 2009 cut will be computed as 3.31 percent of each city’s levy plus aid. For 2010, the percentage reduction will be increased to 7.64 percent. Cities with populations under 1,000 that also have below average property tax bases will be exempt from cuts in 2009 and 2010.
View a spreadsheet from the Department of Revenue showing a city-by-city list of the cuts (pdf)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Criticizing cities for maintaining rainy day funds makes for good TV, however...
City fund balances have become a popular topic of discussion among state policymakers and the media. Some of these discussions include basic misunderstandings of city finances. While each city’s financial situation is unique, a new memo published by the League of Minnesota Cities provides an overview of the issues surrounding city fund balances, the different components of fund balances, and the characteristics that most city fund balances share.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

First step in the unallotment process occurs
(Statement by Gary Carlson, Intergovernmental Relations Director for the League of Minnesota Cities)
As expected, the first step in the unallotment process occurred today as the Commissioner of Finance (aka Minnesota Management and Budget) notified Governor Pawlenty that the conditions exist for unallotment.

At this point, we do not have any new information on the magnitude or the distribution of the potential cuts to cities. We still expect to receive notice by mid-June. The League is continuing to discuss the problems of unallotment with the Commissioner of Revenue and we are strongly urging a reduction in the magnitude of the cuts.

Below is the text from the Commissioner’s letter.

June 4, 2009

Governor Tim Pawlenty
Office of the Governor
130 State Capitol
75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155

Dear Governor Pawlenty:

The purpose of this letter is to advise you that the state’s revenues are not anticipated to be sufficient to support planned spending in the upcoming biennium. I expect that the spending authorized for the 2010-11 biennium will exceed revenues by $2.7 billion.

I have determined, as defined in Minnesota Statutes 16A.152, that “probable receipts for the general fund will be less than anticipated, and that the amount available for the remainder of the [2010-2011] biennium will be less than needed.” Several factors, including those listed below, have led me to this determination.

The February 2009 forecast showed declining revenues leading to a projected $4.6 billion general fund shortfall for FY 2010-11. Projected revenues for the biennium were $30.7 billion – $1.2 billion less than anticipated in the November 2008 forecast – while projected expenditures were $35.5 billion. Although recently enacted spending changes have reduced anticipated spending levels, a $2.7 billion shortfall still remains after considering all bills passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor.

I do not find sufficient evidence to suggest that our budget outlook for the upcoming biennium will improve with new information. The national economy has worsened since the February forecast and other forecasters generally concur with this outlook. Our national economic forecaster, Global Insights, suggests that Minnesota and the rest of the nation are in the midst of a lengthy economic downturn.

Our state’s revenue collections reflect this weakened economy and are not matching expectations. Year to date receipts for FY 2009 are down $70.3 million compared to the February forecast. Nearly all major revenue categories have collected less than anticipated.

Unfortunately, the state does not have other available funds to cover lower revenue collections. The budget reserve was drawn down to zero last year and no other additional resources are available. Therefore, at the beginning of the next fiscal year, it will be necessary to reduce allotments of appropriations or transfers for FY 2010-11. I will seek your approval to take this action in a future communication.

Our department will continue to monitor the economic and revenue outlook in the coming months.
Tom J. Hanson

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

As if LGA/MVHC cuts aren't bad enough...
Despite a strong push by the League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) to repeal levy limits during the 2009 session and the fact that the House and Senate included identical positions within their respective omnibus tax bills, levy limits will remain in place for at least the 2010 budget year. The League's Intergovernmental Relations Director, Gary Carlson, explains.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Unallotment update -- cities prepare for worst
Over the past several days, there has been significant media coverage of how projected state aid cuts (local government aid and market value homestead credits) are affecting city budgets, and how cities are responding. The City of New Brighton, for example, is considering offering early retirement packages among other options while the City of St. Paul is placing a number of ideas on the table. The City of Crystal is putting parks and rec as well as community centers on the chopping block. And, some cities in Cottonwood County have analyzed their general funds for target areas. There are many more stories of layoffs that will impact quality and volume of city services delivered unfolding metrowide and statewide, as well.

Friday, May 22, 2009

League of MN Cities issues response to Governor Pawlenty's comments
Moments ago, League of Minnesota Cities Executive Director Jim Miller released this statement in response to comments made by Governor Tim Pawlenty during a Thursday press conference:

City officials from across the State of Minnesota understand the severity of the state's budget crisis. They also understand that the solution will affect all portions of the state budget including the aid and credit programs that help fund city services.

We are disappointed that Governor Pawlenty chooses to dismiss the concerns of city officials as nothing more than "whining." Just five months ago, cities lost $66 million in state aids when the Governor used his unallotment authority to address the state's deficit. Now we face the uncertainty of the timing and magnitude of additional cuts to balance the remaining $2.7 billion deficit. We don't know if the cuts will be 5 percent or 75 percent of the local government aid (LGA) and market value homestead credit (MVHC) appropriations--or a cut of $30 million or $460 million.

Cities do not have the ability to shift fiscal difficulties to any other level of government. Since the 2003 budget crisis, city officials have been streamlining and identifying efficiencies in city operations. They will continue to seek further streamlining but the only other solutions are the difficult choices of raising taxpayer's burdens or cutting important city services.

Even if cities choose the difficult option of raising taxes, the structure of the property tax system means that replacement revenues will not be available until after property taxpayers make payments a year from now, in May of 2010. Additionally, the Governor insisted last year that the state impose levy limits on cities and counties. These limits were imposed when the LGA appropriation was increased. Now, we expect the actual LGA and MVHC payments to cities will decline substantially-a circumstance not anticipated last year when the levy limits were imposed.

If cities choose to cut services and employees, they need to make those difficult decisions as soon as possible. But again, we do not yet know the magnitude or the structure of the unallotment reductions that we assume will be imposed.

To be clear, cities have already made many difficult choices. In the wake of very deep cuts in state aids imposed in 2003 and 2004, city employment dropped. From 2003 to 2005, city employment was reduced by 16 percent statewide. Even today, city employment remains nearly 6 percent lower that it was prior to the 2003/2004 budget crisis.

City reserves have also been depleted. The cuts imposed last December were administered after cities had set their 2009 budgets and property tax levies, and this timing forced many cities to immediately reduce their budget reserves and cash flow accounts.

We appreciate the Governor's offer to consult with cities about the magnitude and structure of aid and credit cuts. But let's not diminish the magnitude of the state's budget problem or the implications for cities as LGA and MVHC are cut.
No city services sacred in unallotment scenario
As Governor Pawlenty continues to again ponder unallotment, cuts to city aid of up to $282 million in the next 18 months means cities will likely be faced with making significant service reductions that are highly visible to residents. After Governor Pawlenty chose to unallot December LGA and MVHC payments for the end of calendar year 2008, the League of Minnesota Cities undertook an informal tally of city budget-balancing actions and strategies in response to that unallotment, and in anticipation of further cuts in the next biennium.

Cities have reported since December 2008 that no service is sacred, and are looking to make additional budget cuts to public safety, park and recreation services, public works, and city library services among others. These cuts will result in significant job losses, as well. The numbers tallied by the League reveal that such reductions are already underway.

Please note that the list below was assembled through analysis of newspaper clips and collection of anecdotes provided by city members (only 201 cities are currently represented on the list)—it is not meant to be a formal survey and doesn't take into account cities throughout the state whose efforts may have not been recently featured in a news clip. Additionally, the list shown below is partical and reflects only a few of the top mentions. The actual list is much, much longer. Nevertheless, it provides insight regarding how cities are already coping, and plan to cope moving forward.

Action/strategy followed by No. of actions cities that have done, or are considering:
Reductions in service-- 94
Delay or cancel projects/major services-- 90
Cuts to public safety/reductions in hours & personnel/disband dept.-- 82
Spending reductions/reduction of contributions & transfers to other funds-- 80
Cut employees/layoffs/reduce FTEs/combine departments-- 69
Decrease salary/lower increases/furloughs-- 69
Leave positions open/don’t fill planned positions-- 48

From all of the personnel-related actions and strategies listed we can see that if LGA/MVHC is unallotted or cut at the maximum levels expected, then it’s a sure bet that Minnesota’s unemployment rate of 8.1 percent could be upticking in the very near future.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

At session's end, city aid cuts remain unresolved
(analysis by Gary Carlson, Intergovernmental Relations Director for the League of Minnesota Cities)
The 2009 State Legislative session ended at midnight Monday without Governor Pawlenty and legislators reaching agreement on how to balance the remaining $2.7 billion state budget deficit. The Legislature approved and sent a package of budget-balancing tax items to the Governor but immediately after the session adjourned, the Governor’s staff indicated that the bill would be vetoed, which will presumably trigger the unallotment scenario threatened by the Governor last Thursday.

At this point, we do not yet know how deep the unallotment reductions might be. In the last hours of the session, Governor Pawlenty offered budget proposals that would have severely reduced “tax aids and credits” by roughly $450 million. This total is similar to the budget cuts proposed by the Governor in his January budget, which included a 2009 LGA/MVHC reduction of $100 million and a 2010 reduction of roughly $182 million. Estimates of the Governor’s January proposal and the original House and Senate proposals are available on the League of Minnesota Cities website at: http://www.lmc.org/media/document/1/house_lgacuts_march31.pdf [see columns titled “Governor LGA Cut” and “Governor MVHC Cut” for 2009 and 2010 estimates].

Please keep in mind that these are not final unallotment estimates. The final amounts will almost certainly change and will be dependent upon the allocation of the necessary budget-balancing cuts and the ability to shift school revenues.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Countdown to midnight
With only a few hours remaining in the State Legislative session, Minnesota cities are bracing for the damage that will be caused by a possible $450 million cut in local goverment aid. On Saturday, mayors from five cities held a press conference to voice their concerns. Officials from the City of Austin weighed-in, in print.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Could “lights-on” bill mean “lights-off” for Minnesota city governments?
A piece of legislation introduced this week (Senate File 2141)—a so-called “lights-on” bill-- would keep state government operational beyond July 1 even if an appropriations agreement is not reached among Governor Pawlenty and Legislative leaders prior to that date. SF 2141 is being debated by the House-side this afternoon.

Under the proposed bill, it is not entirely clear, though, how city programs including local government aid (LGA) and market value homestead credit (MVHC) would be treated. If the legislative session ends without resolution to the state budget, LGA payments and MVHC reimbursements,--and the services they fund-- could be at risk. Unlike budget solutions enacted by the legislature, the Governor has far fewer tools to address a budget imbalance and he would most likely have to rely on the use of his power to unallot appropriations, just as he did with LGA and MVHC in December of 2008. Under the State’s unallotment statute, the Governor can either reduce appropriations or defer payments in order to address a budget shortfall.

In a worst case scenario, the “lights-on” bill could force the Governor to balance the remaining $3.1 billion deficit through cuts and shifts. If he uses his power to delay the payment of $1.8 billion in school aids as proposed by the House, the remaining deficit would still be $1.3 billion, which might have to be made up through program cuts— likely including cuts to LGA and MVHC.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

City drinking water quality again receives high marks
From a news release issued today by the Minnesota Department of Health:
"Tests on 957 community water supply systems during the past year have again shown little evidence of contamination problems in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) ...The drinking water annual report includes test results for 726 city water systems throughout the state. Also included were 231 non-municipal systems that provide drinking water to people in their place of residence—in locations such as manufactured home parks, apartment buildings, housing subdivisions, colleges, hospitals, prisons, and child care facilities."

Friday, May 8, 2009

Brainerd city adminstrator receives MCMA honor
Congratulations to Dan Vogt, City Administrator for the City of Brainerd, who received the Dr. Robert A. Barrett Award for Management Excellence for outstanding service to local government from the Minnesota City/County Management Association (MCMA) last night. Vogt was cited for his leadership in helping the Brainerd City Council and staff work through tough budget decisions, leading the way on economic development projects that resulted in several new business expansions in the community, and fostering positive and mutually-beneficial relationships among other local government entities in the region. Vogt has served as Brainerd City Administrator since 1989. He has also served as President of MCMA and as a board member for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Additionally, Vogt has served as a board member of the national Joint Powers Alliance, and has been heavily involved in League of Minnesota Cities activities.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Sign of the times -- more on Minnesota city finances
Some additional data from the recently-released League of Minnesota Cities 2009 State of the Cities Report.

-- The current economic struggles of individuals, families, and businesses in Minnesota are translating into financial challenges for city governments. About 34 percent of cities have reported an increase in requests for deferred payment of property taxes and/or bills over the last year.

-- More than 80 percent of cities anticipate having trouble meeting debt service payments; late payment or non-payment of taxes and/or utility bills are common reasons for this trend.

-- About 41 percent of cities indicated that they have seen development projects delayed or canceled. Cities are often left struggling to pay for the new infrastructure in which they invested in anticipation of development that never came, or was not completed.

-- Cities continue to see declines in building permit revenues and other revenue streams associated with new development. In Minnesota, the number of single-familybuilding permits issued fell 58 percent between January 2008 and 2009.

Given these fiscal circumstances, it follows that anticipated cuts in local government aid (LGA) and market value homestead credit reimbursements (MVHC) will be the straws-that-break-the-camel's-back, and will likely result in significant service cuts in a number of Minnesota communities. Other communities are looking at fee-for-service options to generate revenue.

Monday, May 4, 2009

On potholes and public policy
The State of Minnesota has nearly 290,000 lane-miles of highways, roads, and streets, and about 16 percent of those streets are owned and maintained by cities. According to the League of Minnesota Cities' recent State of the Cities Report, about 80 percent of Minnesota cities have streets in need of repair, reconstruction, and/or other maintenance--such as seal coating. Declining revenues, including major cuts in state aid to cities, have made securing basic funding for repair and maintenance quite challenging. The League has proposed a legislative solution that still has a chance for passage in this session--a street improvement district provision that exists in the House version of the tax bill. Without ongoing maintenance, the average life expectancy of local streets is approximately 25 to 30 years. With appropriate maintenance, this infrastructure can last 50 to 60 years. Timely maintenance is essential to preserving streets and thereby protecting taxpayer investments.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Housing foreclosures and failing businesses take toll on city finances
The nation’s economic recession, the decline in the housing market, and the recent crisis in financial markets have muddies city fiscal prospects in a variety of ways, according to a new study released yesterday by the League of Minnesota Cities. The 2009 State of the Cities Report shows that all of those trends have hampered the ability of Minnesota cities to fund and provide basic services to residents and businesses.

According to the Report, the most frequently identified problems by cities as a result of the general economic downturn are an increase in unpaid residential utility bills, an increase in unemployment among residents, a decrease in building permit revenues, and an increase in unpaid property taxes. Additionally, more than 26 percent of cities reported an increase in business closures in their communities. These statistics are particularly sobering since cities are also facing substantial cuts in local government aid and market value homestead credit reimbursements.

City officials identified the most frequent foreclosure-related problems as delinquent utility services fees and taxes and collection of delinquent utility bills, property maintenance issues, delinquent property tax payments, and declining property value. Earlier this month, the League released preliminary findings from the fiscal conditions survey portion of the State of the Cities Report.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why do city governments need lobbyists?
In recent weeks, Minnesota cities have been criticized by Governor Pawlenty for spending money to lobby at the State Capitol. Certainly, with large cuts in local government aid and market value homestead credit programs on the horizon, cities have an keen interest weighing-in on the state budget debate currently underway. But that's only part of the story. During the 2009 State Legislative session, more than 1,000 bills that affect city government in a variety of ways have been introduced in areas ranging from election law, to environmental standards, to liquor sales, among others. The League of Minnesota cities has compiled a comprehensive list of those bills.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A capital dispute over levy limit repeal
This week, Governor Pawlenty and Senate Tax Committee Chair Tom Bakk exchanged barbs about the property tax impact of their respective state budget proposals. The Governor contended that Bakk's bill would have the effect of increasing property taxes by nearly $900 million, with a little less than half of that attributed to Bakk's proposal to eliminate levy limts on cities and counties. Senator Bakk countered that the Governor's plan would actually increase local property taxes by more than $600 million due to state aid and credit reimbursements to cities and counties. Bakk also believes the estimate of a $415 million property tax increase due to the elimination of levy limits greatly exaggerates the likely pressure on the property tax for counties and cities.

Is Senator Bakk right? Gary Carlson, Intergovernmental Relations Director for the League of Minnesota Cities, thinks so and offers this analysis:

"All of the property tax numbers being bandied about are estimates and originate from a non-partisan working group of House, Senate and Revenue Department analysts. This group annually considers the factors that will likely impact the budgets and property tax levies of local units of government in order to project overall levy increases. The estimation methodology considers recent trends in city and county levies, recent trends in the measure of inflation for local governments, state aid cuts, pent-up pressure due to the fact that levy limits were in place for 2009, and some rough survey information from the largest cities and counties.

Truth be told, no one knows precisely how city councils and county boards will react to the challenges of state aid and credit cuts, a weak economy, a shrinking tax base, and demands by residents for local services. The circumstances faced by city councils are unlike anything that has been experienced in local government since the early 1980s or perhaps since the Great Depression. All of this means that assumptions historically used to project future property tax levies may not be accurate right now. Unfortunately, policy decisions, including decisions on state aid cuts and levy limits, will be based on assumptions."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Little Falls residents and neighbors rally to support historic site
If the residents of Little Falls have their way, the Charles A. Lindbergh Home isn't going away anytime soon. In the wake of a recent announcement by the Minnesota Historical Society that the site may fall victim to state budget cuts, residents have been joined by business leaders, and officials from other Minnesota cities, to launch a letter-writing campaign aimed at Governor Pawlenty and state legislators. Ultimately, whether the campaign is successful or not, it represents an admirable and inspiring effort on the part of organized citizens to demonstrate how important the site is to their city.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

City water sparkles on Earth Day
One city service that many of us take for granted daily is the provision of clean, safe drinking water. A sidebar note included along with a recent Time magazine print version story on the state of the economy notes that bottled water sales have recently dropped by about 10 percent. The electronic version of the story is here. As people cut back on spending, they are less willing to pay for what they can get for minimal cost—quality drinking water, provided by their city and delivered to their homes 24/7. Not only is city water good for your wallet, it's healthier than bottled (flouride is a good thing) and puts no plastic bottles in landfills.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Message from a grateful community
Bill Schwandt, general manager for municipal electric and gas utilities in Moorhead has written and distributed an e-mail journal providing updates on the recent flooding situation in the Red River Valley. Yesterday, he made his final entry that included a heartfelt thank you to all who have provided assistance during the past few weeks.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What business can learn from government
Why can't the public sector be managed more like the private sector? Governing magazine writer Ken Miller explains why--in terms of stewardship, accountability, and motivation-- this isn't necessarily a good idea. As he observes, "There's a lot that government does right. The private sector ought to take a few notes."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

2009 shows little financial promise for city officials
Prelimary results of a new study released by the League of Minnesota Cities show that a vast majority of city officials are pessimistic about city fiscal conditions in the state for the remainder of 2009. Their pessimism is fueled, in part, by proposed cuts to local government aid and market value homestead credit programs. The League will release additional "State of the Cities" report findings on April 29.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Serving community and country
When we think about local government, it's often easy to forget that the vast majority of elected officials are not full-time, professional office-holders or politicians. City officials are also our friends and neighbors--they are small business owners, educators, and retirees, and others devoting additional time to community service with little or no financial compensation in return. And sometimes, they devote time and energies to serving our country in other important ways, as well. Welcome home, councilmember Gerry Krage of Winona, Minnesota.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More on city sustainability efforts
“Green Cities: Leading The Way,” a new 30-minute documentary produced by the League of Minnesota Cities and Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), focuses on the energy reduction initiatives of four Minnesota cities--Barnesville, Elk River, New Ulm, and Minneapolis.

The program is scheduled to air on the statewide digital MN Channel at the following times: April 16 at 8 p.m., April 17 at 2 a.m., April 19 at 7:30 p.m., April 20 at 1:30 a.m., and April 20 at 7:30 a.m.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sustainability equals cost savings for cities
While some skeptics may question sustainability strategies being pursued by a number of Minnesota cities, a Pioneer Press article published over the weekend emphasizes the economic benefits. The League of Minnesota Cities has devoted a significant area of its web site toward promoting energy saving/green efforts among member cities.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Congratulations to 2009 Local Government Innovation Award Winners
City winners of the 2009 Local Government Innovations Awards, sponsored by the Public and Non-Profit Leadership Center of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, are:

City of Roseville for its Police Department’s East Metro SWAT team (in cooperation with St. Anthony, New Brighton, and North St. Paul).
City of Roseville for its Parks and Recreation Department’s skating center geothermal project. City of St. Michael for its Safe Schools-Diversity Initiative.
City of St. Louis Park for its Graffiti Abatement Program.

The Innovation Awards were started by the Humphrey Institute in 2007, in cooperation with the League of Minnesota Cities, the Association of Minnesota Counties, and the Minnesota School Boards Association. The awards recognize outstanding Minnesota local governments that have demonstrated results in improving local services in collaboration with public, nonprofit, and private organizations; increasing efficiency and cost effectiveness; and management process improvement. Winners will be honored at a ceremony and reception on April 15.
Cities add Twitter to communications mix
Today's Star Tribune includes a feature story about the increasing number of suburban cities using social networking sites to post news and information for their residents.
Minnesota cities support clean water funding legislation
The League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) has once again joined forces with a broad coalition of local government, agricultural, environmental, and business groups to push for a plan to use the new sales tax funds being collected for clean water to meet state and local requirements under the federal Clean Water Act. This group, previously referred to as the G-16, was behind the passage of the state Clean Water Legacy Act in 2006 and has consistently supported a plan to provide stable long-term funding for clean water programs.

SF 1913 (Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm)/HF 2128 (Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley) introduced bills that spend the expected funds in a manner consistent with the recommendations of the Clean Water Council, a governor-appointed task force representing a wide range of interests. The Council's recommendations create a way for Minnesota to identify polluted waters, develop scientific reports on where the pollution is coming from, and implement the improvements needed to actually return the water to water quality standards.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Moorhead prepares for the worst
Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger blogs about his city's efforts in dealing with severe flooding in the Red River Valley area. Also, more from this morning's Star Tribune.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

City excellence recognized
Each year, the League of Minnesota Cities honors four cities for outstanding work that promotes quality of life in our communities. The 2009 winners will be announced in June, but videos featuring the 2008 winners--the cities of Breezy Point, Luverne, Sartell, and Woodbury--are now featured on the League's web site. At a time when cities are struggling to make ends meet, these stories serve as a valuable reminder of the good work and innovation emanating from our communities.

Monday, March 23, 2009

League explains budget management bill
A new legislative bill introduced to give cities the same budget-planning discretion as the Governor, State Legislature, and state agencies has been unfairly criticized as an attempt to suppress public information. League of Minnesota Cities Executive Director Jim Miller explains the real purpose of the bill in a St. Cloud Times opinion column.

Friday, March 20, 2009

City residents can help prioritize services
Red Wing is among the most recent Minnesota cities to schedule public forums for citizen discussion of how to resolve city budget challenges. These forums allow residents to share ideas and voice their opinions about priorities for city services. Red Wing officials are anticipating having to make dramatic budget cuts this year and again in 2010 due to expected losses in state aid.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pick a mandate, any mandate….no, not that one!
Early in the Legislative session, Governor Pawlenty and state lawmakers asked cities, counties, and school districts to submit ideas for mandate relief to relieve some of the budget pressures associated with cuts to local government aids. Eliminating mandates, though, is easier said than done—at least a couple of suggestions are encountering stiff political opposition.

The Minnesota Newspaper Association has historically opposed any previous attempts by local governments to end the decades-long practice of publishing public meeting notices in local papers. Though the emergence of electronic media has rendered the practice nearly obsolete, and the cost of purchasing classified ads is a drag on city budgets, that opposition has re-emerged.

Perhaps the mother-of-all mandates, state-imposed levy limits is apparently off-the-table, as well, according to the Governor. During the last legislative session, the Governor signed a bill into law that permits cities to increase their levies 3.9 percent OR the change in the IPD (implicit price deflator—the local government measurement of inflation), whichever is less. Right now the change in the IPD is running about 1 percent for 2010 and half that for 2011.

Senator Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) recently introduced a bill that would adopt several mandate relief measures, including removal of levy limits. The bill was approved by the Senate Tax Committee, and awaits further action.
Main Street downturn sparks city-business alliances
According to a report recently released by the National League of Cities, locally owned retail businesses in America’s cities have been particularly vulnerable to the nation’s economic slump. As a result, many city officials are partnering with local business communities to address the retail slowdown.
On budget cuts and selective math
During several press conferences and public events over the past few weeks (including yesterday’s), Governor Pawlenty has declared that his proposed local government aid (LGA) cuts for 2009 makes up only about 5 percent of city revenue base, the total revenue collected by Minnesota cities through levies (property taxes) plus state aids.

So given the state budget mess and the disastrous economy, why are mayors and councilmembers complaining about single-digit cuts? After all, any well-managed city should have no trouble trimming five percent from its budget with cutting police officer and firefighter positions, right?

Though technically accurate, the Governor conveniently neglects to explain that his 5-10 percent includes the total revenue collections for all cities in Minnesota, including cities that do not receive LGA.

Of greater significance, though, is the fact that among the 700+ cities that do receive LGA, the Governor has proposed a 15 percent cut in funding for 2009 and 30 percent in 2010. Those latter numbers are far more revealing in terms of real impact on the operating budgets of LGA-receiving Minnesota cities, and the ability of cities to pay for basic services.

Bottom line: City operating budgets actually pay cop salaries, and salaries for other key service-providing city employees. LGA makes-up a huge portion of operating budgets for cities—a larger portion than the Governor’s characterization leads us to believe.