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Cuts cause city, county concerns

Published (2/18/2010)
By Kris Berggren
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Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s supplemental budget proposes $250 million in state aid cuts to cities and counties. Local government representatives told the House Local Government Division Feb. 15, the day of the budget’s release, they’re still reeling from the cumulative effects of prior year cuts.

Mankato City Manager Pat Hentges said the city rolled back its 2010 budget to 2007 spending levels; eliminated most of its “livability” initiatives, such as arts funding, and “secondary” services, such as a recreational program at a nature center and a police school liaison; and eliminated about 10 percent of its workforce. The proposed new cuts, Hentges said, would require Mankato to eliminate another $1.7 million, the equivalent of its snowplow, library and street lighting budgets. To compensate with property tax revenue would require an increase between 20 percent and 25 percent, he said.

Many small cities don’t have much left to cut, said Floodwood Mayor Jeff Kletscher, first vice president of the Minnesota Association of Small Cities, nor do they have much of a tax base to tap. They’re deferring maintenance, such as sidewalk, roof and road repairs, and energy-saving updates like insulation and new windows. “Cities across the state are being set up for major catastrophes as time goes on as we put off this maintenance,” he said.

Minneapolis would lose the equivalent of more than one-third of the city’s 2010 police budget of $133 million, according to City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden. She said the proposed $50.3 million in state aid cuts “really has the potential to change public service as we know it.” She said Minneapolis, which has seen $43 million in state aid cuts since 2008, recently laid off 60 civilian police workers.

The timing of recent cuts can also wreak havoc on the local budget process, according to Keith Carlson, executive director of the Minnesota Inter-County Association. Because local governments operate on a calendar year, decisions made late in the year can’t be accommodated by local levy decisions, which might otherwise help compensate for state aid cuts.

Local governments are often exhorted to do “more with less,” Carlson said. “I’m here to tell you we’re doing less with less.”

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