Mayors want answers from governor hopefuls
ALEXANDRIA - With the race for Minnesota governor off and running, a group of rural mayors and city leaders want to know one thing: Where do the candidates stand on local government aid (LGA)? If the state continues to cut LGA to deal with its bu...
ALEXANDRIA - With the race for Minnesota governor off and running, a group of rural mayors and city leaders want to know one thing:
Where do the candidates stand on local government aid (LGA)?
If the state continues to cut LGA to deal with its budget woes, residents in small cities like Alexandria will pay the price through "skyrocketing" property taxes, predicted leaders from the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, who met in Alexandria for their annual fall conference last week.
"Our citizens are bearing the brunt of year after year of property tax increases and cuts to local police, fire, libraries, community pools, street maintenance and snow plowing," said St. Peter Mayor Timothy Strand at a news conference at Arrowwood Resort.
Strand said that because of LGA cuts, small cities are at "the breaking point" and have been forced to increase property taxes to the tune of 64 percent statewide since 2002.
Cities have had to eliminate jobs, delay street projects, cut hours and reduce city services, according to the coalition.
Alexandria, for instance, had to forego hiring two police officers, said Alexandria Mayor Dan Ness.
LGA amounts have dropped from $759 million in 2002 to $424 million in 2010. From 2002 to 2009, total real per capita revenue in cities is down 12 percent - a sharper decrease in revenue than counties, school districts and the state have had to deal with, coalition leaders said.
The coalition called on Minnesotans to get involved in the LGA debate by attending gubernatorial debates, writing letters to the editor and contacting each campaign directly to find out where the candidates stand on LGA.
As part of that effort, the coalition is also touting an advertisement that it produced. It was played during the news conference and is available online at www.ThankLGA.org .
The ad features clips of city officials explaining the loss of police officers because of the aid cuts and families discussing how property tax increases have affected the affordability of their homes. A Richfield resident, for instance, talks about how he had to take on three jobs and ask his three sons to help pay his bills.
Mayor Ness is also featured in the video, predicting the impact of the LGA cuts in Alexandria.
"There will be a slow down in services for sure," Ness said, "because we just have fewer people to do more work."
The video also includes a clip of Tim Pawlenty when he was campaigning for governor in 2002, stating that he understands that cuts in LGA result in property tax increases.
"As the ad shows, candidates have promised us many things over the years," said Park Rapids Mayor Nancy Carroll. "We are at a point now, however, when we need to inform our citizens of what they can take to the bank: Either they brace for higher and higher property taxes or they can urge candidates for governor to commit to restoring local government aid."
LGA represents a big chunk of city budgets, although the amount varies widely. In Wadena, it represents about 55 percent of the city's budget, according to Mayor Wayne Wolden. In Alexandria, it makes up about 17 percent of the budget.
Wadena has been able to keep its portion of property taxes flat, said Wolden. But the cuts have affected city services, such as snow plowing, park maintenance, response time of police officers and reduced library hours, he added.
The coalition is calling on the Legislature to limit the 2010 LGA "unallotment" to restore LGA to the 2009 levels - $482 million instead of $424 million. It also wants to protect LGA from any further unallotments.