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.