City officials strategize in light of pending cutsCloquet City Council members, city administrators and members of the public attended a special meeting Monday afternoon to discuss strategy regarding the Governor’s 2010 proposed $405,000 budget cuts to the city.
By: Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
Cloquet City Council members, city administrators and members of the public attended a special meeting Monday afternoon to discuss strategy regarding the Governor’s 2010 proposed $405,000 budget cuts to the city.
City officials already dealt with $449,000 in cuts to the 2010 budget announced last year and the way they see it now – the latest proposed cut is another symptom of a larger problem.
“We need to prepare for the idea that local government aid (LGA) may go away altogether,” said City Administrator Brian Fritsinger. “And it’s likely to go away much sooner than we originally anticipated.”
Since 2004, the city of Cloquet has had its LGA reduced by approximately $2.1 million. At that time, the city was receiving a total of approximately $3.5 million from the state per year. If the latest proposed $405,000 cut becomes reality, the city will be down to $1.4 million in funding in 2011.
While that number may still sound large to residents, Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren said to consider that one sewer project can cost $1 million.
“Sometimes it looks like we have a lot of money, but one of the city’s projects can eat up that kind of money very quickly,” said Ahlgren.
Councilors talked about handling the short-term problem first, directing Fritsinger and staff to make recommendations on cutting $405,000 out of the current budget as soon as possible.
The long-term issue of losing government funding altogether, on the other hand, will not be resolved overnight.
“In the long term, we are talking about services and how we provide them,” Fritsinger said.
“We can’t tax our way out of this,” Ahlgren added.
Because the city has been trimming budgets since 2004, officials agreed that if LGA goes away completely, so will services.
“Probably shutting down pools, libraries and community centers, cutting public safety, holding on street improvements – it’s what everyone’s thinking in cities all over the state,” Ahlgren said.
Councilor Erik Blesener pointed out that the city has financial agreements with organizations like the Cloquet Area Hockey Association and the senior center and that could change.
“They will need to understand it will affect them too,” he said. “It’s a trickle-down effect.”
City Engineer Jim Prusak expressed frustration with the state and federal governments.
“I think for the money we spend, the services are excellent and I don’t know that the state or ‘feds’ do that,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a lot of waste sitting at 1307 Cloquet Avenue.”
Fritsinger added that unions will play a critical role in determining the future and that in general communication would be paramount.
“There are a lot of rules regarding use of volunteers and work schedules so we need to engage them,” he said. “The bottom line is the continual erosion of LGA over the last seven years has put the city at a tipping point in terms of service.”