Friday, April 23, 2010

Maps that illustrates city budget cuts, Part III -- City streets
Third and final in a League of Minnesota Cities series - This particular map provides a visual representation of the magnitude of recent budget-cutting actions specifically in the service area related to city streets (construction and maintenance). Actions taken may be in response to cuts made in state aid, as well as to other economic factors currently putting stress on city budgets. Again, as with the first two maps, note that some areas of the state may appear underrepresented because of lack of online news content available in those areas, among other factors. Frequent “streets” actions may include delay of reconstruction projects and routine maintenance (crack fillings, seal coating); and change snow removal policy (raise threshold, eliminate overtime so plowing wont’ happen on weekends/at night) among others. Taxpayers should note that, without ongoing maintenance, the average life expectancy of local streets is approximately 25-30 years. With appropriate maintenance, the significant investment in this infrastructure can be extended to 50-60 years. Maintenance costs increase as road systems age. Thus, timely maintenance is not only effective in improving roadway surfaces, but also saves money over the long run. Poor street conditions can cause wear and tear on vehicles, causing additional maintenance and repair issues for taxpayers.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Maps that illustrates city budget cuts, Part II -- Parks and recreation services
Second in a League of Minnesota Cities series - This particular map provides a visual representation of the magnitude of cuts specifically in the area of city parks and recreation. Again, as with the public safety cuts map, note that some areas of the state may appear underrepresented because of lack of online news content available in those areas, among other factors. Park and rec budget-cutting actions may include reducing mowing in city parks, shortened pool season or hours, cuts in summer recreation programs offered, the use of volunteers to plant and maintain flowers along main street, and more. With warm seasonal weather in Minnesota on the horizon, park and rec becomes an even more visible and valued public service. Will your city be forced to make budget cuts that could affect outdoor recreational activities this summer?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Map shows Minnesota cities that have cut public safety budgets
Over the past 15 months, Minnesota cities have absorbed more than $250 million in cuts to Local Government Aid and Market Value Homestead Credits – funding used to pay for a variety of city services, including police and fire protection, street maintenance, park and recreation services, and others. Additional cuts have been proposed during the 2010 Legislative Session, as well. Immediately prior to the initial cuts through unallotment in December 2008, the League of Minnesota Cities began informally compiling city budget-balancing “actions taken” and “actions considered” by tracking news clips from throughout the state, collecting anecdotes from member cities during a series of regional meetings, communicating with member cities via e-mail, and extracting data from member surveys. Though current statuses of considered actions are not known and some actions may be represented more than once, the spreadsheet includes over 4,000 budget-balancing actions made or considered (primarily due to state aid cuts) by 427 cities. This particular map provides a visual representation of the magnitude of cuts specifically in the area of public safety (police, fire departments), alone. Note that some areas of the state may appear underrepresented because of lack of online news content available in those areas, among other factors. These public safety cuts may include the elimination of positions, reduced coverage, fewer training dollars, delays in the replacement of vehicles and equipment, or dissolution of the department altogether. We’ll take a look at additional city service cuts in the coming days.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Ice Arena Air Quality Bill Skates On
by Brian Strub, League of Minnesota Cities
In a case that proves that good intentions can have unanticipated consequences, legislation to improve air quality inside Minnesota’s indoor ice arenas could end up costing skaters, hockey players, and entities that operate arenas thousands of dollars in unproven equipment and training. The bill would mandate installation of an electronic air monitoring device in every indoor ice arena in the state and it is moving quickly through committees in the House and Senate.

Under the bill, HF 3512 (Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul)/SF 3175 (Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul), the monitoring device must be equipped with an alarm that sounds when the carbon monoxide level in the facility is elevated. The monitor must then activate an exhaust system. Ice arena personnel would be required to have training in operating and maintaining the device. The effective date of the bill in its current form is Jan. 1, 2011.

In meetings with stakeholders, the League has acknowledged safety considerations are the top priority for arena staff and managers, but also raised concerns about the potential cost of implementing this legislation at a time when budget challenges are prevalent. The League would prefer an alternative that improves compliance with air quality safety precautions and monitoring.

Some additional points for consideration:
• The health and safety of ice arena users, visitors, and staff is a priority of the highest order.
• The Minnesota Dept. of Health currently is responsible for indoor ice area air quality (http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/indoorair/arenas/index.html).
• The proposed action levels for operation of the exhaust systems do not seem to be rooted in any scientific research on the subject of indoor air quality.
• The time line for implementation of the proposed monitoring system does not allow for proper budgeting and installation of the unit. The effective date of the bill is Jan. 1, 2011.
• The cost of implementing this legislation would be highly problematic at a time when budget challenges are prevalent and deep cuts from the state are anticipated on a number of fronts.
• Minnesota Ice Arena Managers Association has been working with the Minnesota Department of Health to improve the current standards, education, and testing. These subject experts should be allowed to devise a plan that will protect their customers and stand the test of time.
• The League would prefer an alternative to this legislation that improves compliance with air quality safety precautions and monitoring.
• A Senate Committee amended the Senate version of the bill to exempt arenas that use only electric resurfacers and edgers. This equipment does not produce carbon monoxide.
• This is well intended legislation, and also another unfunded mandate.

A hearing has been scheduled for April 7, 2010 before the Cultural and Outdoor Resources Finance Division of the Minnesota House of Representatives.