Council responds to LGA cutsWORTHINGTON — Cutting the budget for flowers on 10th Street and setting a minimum snowfall amount for plowing will not be enough to offset this year’s proposed Local Government Aid (LGA) unallotment that could top $900,000.
WORTHINGTON — Cutting the budget for flowers on 10th Street and setting a minimum snowfall amount for plowing will not be enough to offset this year’s proposed Local Government Aid (LGA) unallotment that could top $900,000.
But it’s a start.
The Worthington City Council voted to take those measures in a special meeting Monday, as it again returned to the city’s budget to “trim the fat” — though councilmen say not much fat is left.
“We’ve been pulling on the low-hanging fruit since 2003,” said Mayor Alan Oberloh, referring to an ongoing pattern of LGA reductions — more than $6 million during the past seven years. “How much longer can we do that?”
The city has already been unalloted a total of about $419,000 from its payments in 2008 and 2009. Now, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed a 2010 reduction of $438,891 — or as much as $913,365 with further reductions in the supplemental budget — while he attempts to plug a $1.2-billion deficit in the state budget.
“We’d like to see what (taxpayers would) like to see cut,” said City Administrator Craig Clark. “Wherever the fat is, I guess we all need to know. We’re looking at ways to save money according to (constituents) priorities, too.”
Among other suggestions for reducing costs: increasing the deductible to save on health insurance for city staff; postponing the hiring of a public relations/planning position for the city, cutting certain tasks from the parks department’s responsibilities, considering the sale of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, using unreserved funds from the municipal liquor store’s revenue and perhaps most likely, a hiring freeze for all but the most vital positions.
“This is the difficult situation the governor has put us in. These are difficult choices and these are real people that we’re dealing with. We don’t take this lightly,” Clark said.
Some members emphasized that small cuts could add up to big savings, while others suggested certain areas be held mostly harmless in the budget-cutting process.
“I think we need to be more aggressive in leveraging these hospital dollars,” said Alderman Mike Kuhle. “I would really caution against limiting economic development.”
Additionally, Mayor Alan Oberloh acknowledged the city’s amenities cost money — but they’re also necessary to make rural communities like Worthington viable places to live.
No one has come out in favor of raising taxes, but the council may need to reconsider its efforts to hold down property tax increases.
The levy increased by 2.9 percent for 2010 — an increase of about $75,000, up from 2009’s roughly $2.6-million levy. The levy increased 1.9 percent for 2009. In 2010, similarly sized Marshall increased its property tax levy by 6.9 percent.
Clark said the city would need to increase its levy by 34 percent to recoup funds lost this year if the proposed unallotment sees fruition. The unallotment is significant, he said, because offsetting the amount lost would, in theory, mean eliminating the entire parks department or one-third of the police department’s officers.
“The government … doesn’t raise taxes and we get the reputation of being the ones that raise taxes because we ‘didn’t live within our means,’” said Oberloh, referring to Pawlenty’s refusal to raise taxes to balance the state deficit.
“We lived within our means, the state didn’t,” added Councilman Ron Wood.