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.