All city services under scrutinyIn the first Cloquet City Council working session of the year Tuesday, City Administrator Brian Fritsinger said he’s tapped city Finance Director Nancy Klassen to tell him if he becomes too pessimistic.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
In the first Cloquet City Council working session of the year Tuesday, City Administrator Brian Fritsinger said he’s tapped city Finance Director Nancy Klassen to tell him if he becomes too pessimistic.
“I’ve asked her to [keep me in] check because I don’t want to come across too negatively about our budget situation,” he said. “It is difficult but we have the capabilities to deal with it.”
The budget crunch comes from the looming threat of greatly reduced state aid to cities in 2009. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty already unalloted $230,000 in 2008 Local Government Aid to Cloquet in December and more seems destined to be cut.
“It is safe to assume that additional permanent cuts will be forthcoming at the conclusion of the current legislative session,” Fritsinger said. “The process to address these cuts will be painful, but it also offers opportunity for positive change and a chance to reinvent ourselves with greater effectiveness.”
Fritsinger proposed to councilors at the meeting that they begin a process to thoroughly review all city services and departments and, with city staff, solve the fiscal problems as a team. He provided councilors with a comprehensive memorandum to that end.
City council member Neil Nemmers expressed his support for Fritsinger’s ideas.
“I think what you’ve done here is incredible,” Nemmers said.
In the memo are specific lists of items for city departments to use as they begin analyzing their operations, including possible revenue-generating ideas like selling advertising on police cars and increasing engineering/inspection fees on assessment projects. Raising or implementing fees for everything from parks to campgrounds to parade permits is on the table, as well as the possibility of closing down Pine Valley cross country ski trails, tubing hill and city skating rinks.
Most, if not all, departments have items on the list, including the library, which will entertain ideas of reducing the number of books purchased each year and working with area school districts to share resources.
“This is not a comprehensive list,” Fritsinger said. “It is intended to generate internal discussion and a running start ... about certain areas of our service delivery that will need scrutiny.”
Some ideas for temporary or short-term measures for council consideration include implementing a hiring freeze, short-term union concessions, purchasing used vehicles instead of new and shutting down city facilities for a time period each week and reducing commensurate salaries and expenses for non-critical support services such as city hall, library and garage. Additional short-term measures could include an across-the-board pay cut, wage freezes, a reduction in council salaries, property tax increases and/or selling excess city-owned land.
A final process for determining cuts is still in the works but Fritsinger hopes to have it accomplished in the next two weeks, beginning with discussions with the city council and department heads in January. They also plan to engage city staff and citizens in the process.
“We’re going to have to commit some significant time to this,” said council member David Bjerkness.
The goal is to have the entire process completed by the time the state legislature finishes their session later this spring.
Added Fritsinger in his memo, “This is a very aggressive schedule and will require a commitment for all involved parties to dedicate themselves to this as the highest priority.”