LGA cuts force cities to tighten belts, againby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
Rochester, Minn. — Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed plan to balance the state's budget cuts $250 million in aid to cities and counties around the state, and city leaders are already working out details to determine what kind of things they'll need to do without.
Local governments around Minnesota are not happy with the Governor's proposal.
"It's frustrating. You know, we did a lot of preparation in 2009 to get ready for this year," said Mike Murtaugh, mayor of Albert Lea. Based on the Governor's proposal, the south central Minnesota city is expected to lose $853,000 in state aid.
Murtaugh said he's looking at cuts and changes to city programs that range from big to small-ticket items. He names a few, like reading down a shopping list. He points out these are all things that were trimmed back in 2009 and will have to be revisited again this year.
"We were at 150 employees and we are presently at 137 employees," he said. "The library staff, they knew that they'd only be able to be open five days a week. The parks, for instance, selected areas that were lesser used were mowed less frequently last summer. We have hired fewer part time summer and winter workers."
Albert Lea has also reached an agreement with its police department. This year, each department employee will give 16 hours of accrued holiday or leave time back to the city. Officers also agreed to reduce their semi-annual uniform allowance from $300 to $100. And hourly employees temporarily agreed to suspend premium holiday pay.
"Of course now, with a further cut of $850,000 in our LGA, unfortunately, that and more is going be right back on the table as far as how the city would respond to that," Murtaugh said.
In Fergus Falls, southwest of Bemidji, the concerns are the same.
Both cities will lose roughly 6 percent of their municipal budgets from the governor's cuts. State aid to Fergus Falls will drop by more than $675,000.
City leaders there have already cuts supplies, employee training, and recreational services for residents. They've also frozen wages for city employees this year.
City Administrator Mark Sievert said there will be cutbacks in road repairs and city park maintenance in the summer. He said he expects additional cuts will increase tension among city workers as well as complaints from residents.
"With this additional round of cuts now we're really going to have to take a serious look at some major reductions in services and we're probably going to have to look at some major layoffs and probably reductions in hours, as well," Sievert said.
Sievert said he's also looking to establish a street light utility fee as a way to increase revenue.
"Quite frankly, there are lot of other areas where you just try to nickel and dime as well as you can," he said.
Both Sievert and Murtaugh say the impact of the Governor's proposed cuts is huge for their small cities. They say a mix of cuts and tax increases will likely be needed to offset the state cuts.
- Morning Edition, 02/17/2010, 7:48 a.m.