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.