Which city services will be scaled back?by Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
There's no question cities around Minnesota are tightening their belts. Gov. Tim Pawlenty's recent cut in local government aid was part of his plan to solve a $426 million deficit in the current budget. Now, the question for local government officials is how to adjust their budgets with as little impact to the services they offer residents.
St. Paul, Minn. — Coon Rapids City Manager Matt Fulton says his city received nearly $835,000 less than anticipated after the cuts in December.
There haven't been any changes to city services yet, but Fulton says his staff is considering shortening the work week for city employees.
They've also talked about closing city offices for a week during the Fourth of July and Christmas holidays, which could force city employees to take days off.
"Other than dealing with snowstorms and public safety and those kinds of things, traffic loads in city hall really goes down those weeks, so those do end up to be logical time frames for closing down municipal facilities," Fulton said. "You save on hours and you save on utilities."
In Richfield, the city lost $619,000 in state aid. City Manager Steve Devich says the city has cut half a dozen full-time positions in the last two years, and is looking for long-term changes to the city's business model.
"Simply closing a skating rink, unfortunately, falls very short of the kinds of adjustments we need to make," Devich said. "I'm looking at this more as a systemic issue."
Like Coon Rapids and Richfield, 349 of the state's 854 cities faced immediate cuts in December.
Since then, city leaders have had to start making some tough decisions on how to cope with less revenue for the new year.
"Cities are looking at a whole range of things, from hiring freezes to travel restrictions to purchasing freezing," said Gary Carlson of the League of Minnesota Cities. "Many cities have already started to impose hiring freezes, just as a way to start to deal with the immediacy of the budget cuts."
Because the cuts came so late in 2008, Carlson says local governments had little time to make any significant adjustments to last year's budget. But most are looking ahead, knowing they will have to continue to trim services.
In Eagan, City Administrator Tom Hedges says his city is feeling the pinch. The city didn't receive local government aid. But it did lose nearly $400,000 in promised state reimbursement for homestead credits on property taxes.
Hedges says he and his staff started scaling back on a handful of services in early 2008, in anticipation of the downturn. And like many cities, when money became tight, some of the first cuts included changes to so-called soft-services, like parks and recreation.
"As use changes in our parks and recreation, we closed a couple of skating rinks, warming houses," Hedges said. "We've done that and we watch other operations accordingly."
The city's also scaled back on when it plows its trails and walkways.
"We'd contract for service, and the trails would be plowed at the same time as the streets to a tune of about $75,000 a year," he said. "We cut that and now we're plowing the trails ourselves."
City officials are also considering shortening the work week for some city employees from 40 to 36 hours a week, and changing all printers in city offices from color to black and white. That alone can save the city nearly $10,000, according to Hedges.
Like his counterparts in Coon Rapids and Richfield, Hedges says he's not counting on any aid for 2009. The state is still facing a deficit for the next biennium and that number could go up after the next budget forecast presented early next year.
- All Things Considered, 01/02/2009, 5:55 p.m.