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Cloquet city council braces for government aid cuts

The city of Cloquet is bracing for a state monetary shortfall and although the city council unanimously passed the 2009 budget at Tuesday's regular meeting, they are well aware it is likely changes will be imminent.

The city of Cloquet is bracing for a state monetary shortfall and although the city council unanimously passed the 2009 budget at Tuesday's regular meeting, they are well aware it is likely changes will be imminent.

"This [2009] budget probably won't mean anything, but let's pass it anyway," said Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren before the vote.

Likely cuts in state aid to cities stem from a $5.3 billion state budget deficit due mostly to a projected decrease in state revenues (see sidebar - Minnesota revenues fall).

Earlier this week, the League of Minnesota Cities prepared city-by-city estimates of cuts to December payments of local government aid (LGA), and for Cloquet, the estimates are significant. Of the $1,123,007 the city is scheduled to receive in December, as much as $360,000 could be slashed.

Cloquet City Administrator Brian Fritsinger thinks that amount could be on the low end of the spectrum.

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"I think it could be closer to half a million," he said Tuesday during the working session before the council's regular meeting. "I know it's real money we're talking about. We're not just talking about the price of a couple pickup trucks."

Governor Tim Pawlenty has the authority to unallot these payments due to the current biennium deficit of at least $426 million. The estimated cuts are calculated by determining the percent of total city revenue base (certified levy plus certified aid plus taconite aid) that is represented by the total cut amount. Although the size of the cuts is not yet known, the governor and legislators are looking at a cut to cities of between $25 million and $100 million, according to the League of Minnesota Cities.

Fritsinger said he sent a letter to Pawlenty noting the "8,000 points" of why the state needs to proceed carefully. The city would be willing to work with the state but said the state should deliver the already-promised December funds, Ahlgren added.

Once the depth of the cuts are known, Fritsinger plans to set a meeting to review the upcoming budget and said every item in the budget would be up for discussion. In the meantime, planned renovations to the city council chambers will be on hold, as will all city improvement projects, such as Veterans Park and city streets.

The renovated Pinehurst Pond's fate may also hang in the balance.

"One option there could be to finish the [construction] but not open, or stop construction where it is and put the project on hold," Fritsinger said. "If we're really talking a cut of $350,000, we will have to talk [about] everything, including jobs."

In other city council action, a newly modified city zoning map was approved. John Sanders was appointed to the Cloquet Planning Commission and Jeff Schaefer was appointed to serve on the Shaw Memorial Library Foundation. Sanders's term will expire at the end of 2009 while Schaefer's will expire at the end of 2011. The council also approved the hire of Cody DeBondt as firefighter and paramedic for Cloquet Fire Department to replace Mike Sobczak who is retiring.

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