Column: Worthington and its LGA challengesWORTHINGTON — If you’ve been reading the newspaper these days the reports are full of many numbers, whether they are unemployment rates, sales figures and budget cuts, but what hits closest to home for cities are the Local Government Aid (LGA) reductions now proposed by Governor Pawlenty.
By: Craig Clark, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — If you’ve been reading the newspaper these days the reports are full of many numbers, whether they are unemployment rates, sales figures and budget cuts, but what hits closest to home for cities are the Local Government Aid (LGA) reductions now proposed by Governor Pawlenty. What are the governor’s unallotments and proposed cuts going to mean in immediate reductions for Worthington, and more importantly what are the long-term implications of this broken partnership with the State of Minnesota?
First, Worthington residents should know that city officials recognize the state’s current budget challenges in dealing with a $994 million deficit. Locally elected leaders have never taken the position that there should be no cuts to LGA with the state’s current financial woes. While they believe there are other financial management methods the state should be employing, other than the current process that leaves cities ripping up their budgets every six months, city officials stand ready to be a part of the solution to a problem that all Minnesotans should take some ownership.
What our city officials have been asking for is some fairness in the reductions. While LGA represents 2.9 percent of the state’s budget, the LGA reductions coupled with the latest proposal from the governor would represent a 40 percent cut in 2010. The simple premise of LGA since its inception in 1971 has been that cities with low property values would still be able to provide equal levels of core services as compared to high property valued cities in the state. Our median valued single family home is $69,900 vs. $281,700 in Wayzata. One can quickly see the ability of Worthington to raise a sufficient amount of revenue to provide core city services is significantly more difficult when you understand we have to buy the same squad cars, plow trucks, road construction material and pay similar wages for employees as wealthier cities in the Twin Cities suburbs.
To answer the concerns of those arguing for reform of the LGA system where cities need to wean themselves off LGA, you should know that Worthington has weaned itself off LGA to the tune of $6.69 million since 2003. Our local budget has gone from being supported by the state at 65 percent down to 41 percent. The city has become a lean operation, but the partnership with the state and LGA distributions have to be more than what spare change is left over in St. Paul and is graciously returned to cities across Minnesota.
What has to be eliminated in the short term to adjust to the latest proposed round of reductions? Some context is important as we evaluate this question. The governor’s latest proposal to cut an additional $474,000 more in LGA is roughly equivalent to eliminating the parks department, or the engineering and economic development departments, or the finance, administration and clerk’s departments, or seven police officers. Otherwise, you would have to eliminate the fire department and snow removal budget as well as come up with an additional $74,000 to get enough savings for the governor’s proposed reductions. Staff and Council have begun the process of transforming our budget yet again and hope the normal legislative process will occur that has happened since the founding of our state, whereby the Governor and Legislature come to a mutual legislative agreement. We will continue to identify priorities as the state determines LGA’s fate. We would appreciate hearing from you regarding what services you would be willing to accept a reduction in.
Our residents should also know that even in light of the budget reductions, we will make every effort possible to provide the best service we can given our funding cuts. The hospital proceeds will continue to be utilized and allocated for projects to improve our quality of life. Council made clear that the transition of the hospital assets would be reinvested into other capital assets to demonstrate that the sale would produce other tangible benefits for the residents of Worthington. This will be a difficult distinction, but one where the City Council is balancing the constraints of the general fund budget and the promises that were made during the sale of the hospital. We have no choice but to deliver on both fronts.
Craig Clark is Worthington’s city administrator.