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.