City council hears estimate on possible state budget cutsCloquet City Administrator Brian Fritsinger gave the first of what will be regular city budget updates during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Cloquet City Administrator Brian Fritsinger gave the first of what will be regular city budget updates during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
He said he and Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren traveled to St. Paul to hear Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s State of the State Address last Friday to hear firsthand what the governor would propose and how it might affect Cloquet.
“[The address] was somewhat disheartening with some of the thoughts conveyed at this point,” Fritsinger said. “[The governor] talked about how local governments should expect a reduction in aid, that it will happen and [the amount] is really the debate at this point.”
The state’s $4.85 billion deficit predicted for the next two-year budget is causing fiscal headaches throughout the state and that number could grow to more than $6 billion before legislators and Pawlenty write the budget later this year.
While in St. Paul, Fritsinger said he got the sense that state aid to cities would be cut between 15 and 50 percent and that it would likely come closer to the 50-percent mark.
“For Cloquet that means a cut of somewhere between $360,000 and $1.2 million, so we’re working to target cutting $1 million out of our budget,” he said.
One other disconcerting idea for city officials proposed by Pawlenty is a mandated wage freeze for two years.
“He’s saying if we don’t enact a wage freeze, we may not receive any state aid,” Fritsinger explained.
As planned, city councilors began meeting with different departments, starting with Cloquet Police, to provide the council with the most current picture of services provided to the community, before they look at specific cuts.
“The message [from the Governor] was clear – we’ve got some work to do,” Fritsinger said.
In December the state unallotted about $230,000 that the city was expected to receive. Cloquet officials were able to absorb that loss in the budget by holding off on capital expenses.
“The good news is if the cuts are about 15 percent, we’ll be in a good position,” Fritsinger said.
He and Ahlgren also participated in a meeting to provide input on any local funds that could come from a federal economic stimulus package in the coming months.
“We’ll do everything we can as a city to keep providing services, work closely together and monitor state events,” Ahlgren added.
In other council action, a motion was passed unanimously approving plans to extend sanitary sewer and water service to a 20-acre parcel of land located south of Big Lake Road, north of Airport Road and between Trettel Lane and Pinewood Drive, to accommodate a new housing complex for the Fond du Lac Reservation. The project, with construction slated to begin this spring, will include two six-unit townhomes, one 12-unit apartment complex and a community center. The project will be funded by the Reservation, who will construct and own the water and sewer lines. Because they will be connected to the city of Cloquet’s system, they require approval by the city, Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Western Lake Superior Sanitary District.