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LGA cuts hit city, county hard

WORTHINGTON -- Just one month after dealing with 2008 cuts to Local Government Aid (LGA), administrators in southwest Minnesota are again feeling the pinch.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Tuesday his plans to balance the state budget during the next two years, including a roughly 25 percent decrease in LGA payments promised to cities and counties.

"I would expect the DFL has a proposal as well, and we'll see what ultimately gets finalized at the legislative level," said Mel Ruppert, Nobles County administrator.

It could be late spring before legislators decide exactly how much will be cut from the 2009 and 2010 LGA payments, but Worthington city councilmen and staff are starting preparations now and will meet in a work session at 5 p.m. Feb. 9 at City Hall to begin rebalancing the city's 2009 budget.

The city of Worthington can expect to see about $290,001 cut from their budgeted 2009 LGA payment of $3,145,279, about a 9 percent decrease. In 2010, an estimated $605,572, or about 20 percent of the budgeted amount, will be cut.

Scheduling the larger reduction next year rather than this year should "allow cities to plan -- we won't be hit so hard right out of the chute, but we still had the reductions from '08 to deal with," explained Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark.

He said the city will continue to discuss ways it can save on costs by collaborating with other cities, counties and school districts. It may also use funds reserved for less urgent needs to help balance the budget.

"The horizon does not look so good; a short-term fix is not something we're going to be looking at," he said.

Over time, the reductions will make providing services to the community more difficult, he said.

"We do not have the capacity to continually go to taxpayers and ask for more," Clark said,

LGA is a proven program, Clark wrote in a letter to the editor. "While we do not want to minimize the severity of the current budget shortfall, the proposal takes us away from being one Minnesota, where a resident in any community can expect similar services," he wrote.

Staff at the county level has also begun preparing for the cuts.

Based on current information, Nobles County can expect an estimated reduction of about 260,000 in 2009 and another 430,000 in 2010, said Ruppert.