LGA in danger

Published 9:38 am Friday, May 22, 2009

Under a bipartisan effort to protect Local Government Aid from unallotment, area mayors and legislators came together in Albert Lea Thursday to call on Gov. Tim Pawlenty to minimize cuts to LGA.

With funding for services such as public safety, libraries and parks on the line, the mayors and legislators asked area residents to voice their concerns to the governor and their legislators about finding a solution for LGA.

“Let’s get the job done,” Coleman said. “Solve the problem, but don’t do it on the backs of cities in Minnesota.”

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Unable to reach a compromise with the Legislature about the budget, Pawlenty has stated he will balance the state’s budget through a process known as unallotment.

Through this process, he can reduce funding for any state program by whatever amount he deems appropriate starting July 1.

In his original plan presented in January, the governor proposed cutting LGA by $246 million over the next two years.

This would come on the heels of a December LGA unallotment to many cities.

Under the governor’s plan, Austin would lose $579,374 in LGA for 2009 and $1,209,834 in 2010. The city was originally set to get $7,766,163 of LGA in 2009.

Albert Lea City Manager Victoria Simonsen said she has been told to plan for cuts from Pawlenty’s proposal, which would mean a cut of about $500,000 in 2009 and a cut of $1.1 million in 2010 for Albert Lea.

Pawlenty has the ability, however, to choose to unallot more or less — between 0 and 100 percent of LGA — Simonsen said.

Dorman said if significant LGA cuts were to go into effect, cities would really only have two choices about what to do to counter those cuts. They can either increase property taxes or reduce services.

He said he thinks if cuts were to go into place there would be dramatic property tax increases for residents. Murtaugh said he does not think Albert Lea residents can handle a property tax increase if LGA is cut substantially. Residents would probably see a significant reduction in city services.

He talked of local teachers who have talked of the struggles that some of the low-income families in the community are facing to provide lunch for their children.

He said more than half of the city’s school children come from low-income families who qualify for reduced lunch fees.

“Right now, these families are struggling, and the struggling is going to get worse,” Murtaugh said.

He went on to talk of some of the efforts Albert Lea has made to reduce spending. Since Jan. 1, he said, the city has tried to engage residents to look at what are important services for the city to provide. The city has also hosted several ward budge meetings, formulated a citizens task force for suggestions and posted an online survey asking for comment.

“I think we have done our part in preparing for change, but for the legislative session to end without an agreement that results in the governor proceeding to unilateral unallotment is unacceptable to me,” Murtaugh said.

Stiehm said he thinks there needs to be compromise when a budget is formed. “LGA is what gives rural Minnesota a large degree of the quality of life,” he said.

If LGA is going to be eliminated, that should be done through the Legislature and talking it out, he noted. Coleman said he decided to come to Albert Lea and other cities in the tour to talk about this issue. LGA cuts are not just a Twin Cities problem; they are an Albert Lea problem, and a problem for many other cities as well.

“Any city that gets LGA will be affected,” he said. Brown asked people to take the concern seriously and to let Pawlenty know LGA is important to this community.

Dorman said people can send their concerns to budgetideas@state.mn.us or call (800) 657-3717.

The press conference was hosted by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities as part of a tour around Greater Minnesota. Members of the group also traveled to Mankato and Rochester.