Mayor: Teamwork needed in projects

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 23, 2003

It's going to take teamwork.

That was the message given by Austin Mayor Bonnie Rietz at Wednesday night's annual State of the City address.

And some people in the community have already begun to heed that advice.

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Recently, the Austin City Council decided to scale back its flower program by 75 percent. The program provides funding and maintenance for city flowerbeds and baskets that line the streets, particularly through the downtown area.

However, the response by some residents throughout the Austin area was enough on Wednesday that nearly $16,000 in donations came in to help give the project another boost this year. Hormel Foods donated $10,000 of that amount, Rietz said.

Rietz and council member Mickey Jorgenson said creative thinking will also play a part to see if the program continues at full force. One idea being floated is that volunteers from the community and area service clubs would help water and maintain the plants.

"It's nice to have ideas about the maintenance," Jorgenson said. "Maybe we can bring that cost down, too."

The full cost to run the program is $64,000. But with possible volunteer support, it would drastically bring down that amount.

"It's an exciting possibility. It costs a little more than half of that amount just for maintenance alone," Jorgenson said, noting the city is checking into liability issues to see if volunteers could operate city equipment.

Also, those interested in making a monetary contribution are urged to contact city Finance Director Tom Dankert.

Rietz wasn't shy in her address in front of a standing-room only crowd in council chambers, mentioning tough fiscal decisions the council will make in the coming year.

Talks have surfaced in recent months that Austin could get a cut in Local Government Aid funding, now that the state is facing a $4.56 billion deficit.

"As a community in beautiful Minnesota, we are both a beneficiary of and contributor to our state's collective choices and causes," Rietz said. "Thus, we must together face the difficult choices of our public sector needs versus wants, revenue versus expenditures, and priorities that best serve to keep our esteemed quality of life that we have in this state."

Rietz said the city is putting its best foot forward and moving ahead, despite the anticipated financial worries. However, reality is slowing starting to sink in.

"The citizens of Austin are resourceful, innovative and tough," she said. "For several years, Austin has been working on cutting back the expenses of city government. Today, we have 25 fewer workers than we had in 1992. We have decided to wait to fill four positions in the city and many projects are on hold until we know how much the cuts in LGA will affect us."

Dan Fields can be reached at 434-2230 or by e-mail at