Ground Level

Cities in Crisis

Under the greatest budget pressure in years, Minnesota cities are both trimming what they do and exploring new ways to provide services. Some are organizing volunteers like never before; some are finding new means to collaborate. And many are increasingly examining what it is that residents want and don't want.

As part of its coverage of communities taking action to prepare for the future, Ground Level is focusing on what Minnesota residents are deciding their cities should do.


Cities find savings in cooperation

Annandale wastewater treatment plant

Cities have shared costs for years, but now they're under pressure to save even more money that way, and some are combining efforts on everything from sewage treatment to food inspection. Read more »

Enlisting volunteers to pick up the slack

Volunteers in Red Wing

Among the leaders in using volunteers to provide government services, Red Wing gets about $100,000 a year worth of volunteer labor to weed and plant parks, water flowers, repair picnic tables, gather trash, maintain signs and more. Read more »

Cities see more cuts, new ways to do things

Red Wing's incinerator

If you're trying to balance a budget in a rural Minnesota city, chances are you have run through all the options. Lay off personnel, check. Increase fees, check. Raise property taxes, check and perhaps re-think.

Where that leaves you is at the threshold of redefining how your community governs itself and redesigning how you deliver services. Read more »


Grand Rapids' mandate: less money, more innovation

New Grand Rapids truck

With the goal of forever eliminating state local government aid money from the operating budget -- city officials came up with a plan that involved Grand Rapids borrowing money from itself to invest and prepare for the future.


Incinerator could be latest service cut in Red Wing

Kanabec Sheriff's squard car with City of Mora paint

What seemed like a good idea in the early 1980s — a combination recycling, steam and waste facility — has become a target in this budget-strapped city.

Many other cities are facing similar choices as state support, in the form of local government aid, keeps shrinking.


Dealing with budget deficits

See how cities from Cambridge to Zumbrota are finding innovative ways to solve budget shortfalls.

What choices has your city made?



Strong Towns, a Minnesota take on how cities should plan
Cities Matter, by the League of Minnesota Cities


Brief history of Minnesota's local government finance
Why do we have property taxes? (MN Department of Revenue)


Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities
League of Minnesota Cities
Minnesota Taxpayers Association
Minnesota Department of Revenue, property taxes
Minnesota state auditor, city reports


Find your city's income and expenses
Cities' Local Government Aid, 2010 and 2011
Is liquor the answer? State auditor's report shows declining profits from municipal liquor stores

Ground Level is a Minnesota Public Radio News project shedding light where residents are seeking ways to improve the communities they live in.
More about the project »