Baldwin board proposes budget cut

The Baldwin Township Board will ask residents to approve a 2011 tax levy of $784,000 at this year’s annual meeting — 3 percent less than the 2010 levy.

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Baldwin supervisors Jim Oliver (L) and Bryan Lawrence study the township’s 2011 budget. (MPR Photo/Curtis Gilbert)

“It’s important to reduce it to show fiscal responsibility, to show that we understand the economic times,” Supervisor Bryan Lawrence said. “Everybody’s in a tough situation and we need to do our due diligence as well. It will also help us be more efficient.”

The board’s action sets up the township’s annual meeting March 9, where the total tax levy is set by a simple majority vote of residents. Unlike cities, where the city council can approve a tax levy on its own, the town board’s proposal is basically a suggestion. The township is the state’s third largest, with some 6,500 residents. Partly because of Baldwin Township’s size and recent growth, Minnesota Public Radio News’ Ground Level project has been focusing attention on it.

The largest proposed cut was the township’s contribution to the retirement fund for its volunteer firefighters. The board wants to zero out that budget line, after discovering it had over-funded the program by more than $150,000.

It will likely be many years before Baldwin’s 7-year-old Fire Department sees any retirements, but the township had been putting $15-$25,000 into the fund every year.

“It just kept on going and nobody really questioned it,” said Supervisor Jim Oliver, a member of the fire department.

The retirement fund surplus would come in handy if Baldwin were to increase its retirement benefit, but Oliver said Baldwin can safely stop contributing for now.

The board will recommend decreasing the road and bridge fund by $5,000 to $385,000. Lawrence pointed out the township has enough carryover funds in the bank to cover the next two years of scheduled road repair projects.

But Terry Carlile, who runs Baldwin’s maintenance department, called that road plan “bogus,” arguing it puts off repairing Baldwin’s most decrepit roads.

“We need to do something with our worst roads first,” Carlile said.

Carlile is running for Lawrence’s seat on the Baldwin board this year. Lawrence is not seeking re-election.

The board will recommend cutting $4,000 from the Fire Department budget. Board Chair Jeff Holm suggested a cut to the department would “keep them on their toes.”

Last year, residents followed the board’s recommendation and reduced the tax levy by more than 6 percent.

The levy peaked in 2009 at $864,000 after years of steady increases fed by Baldwin’s explosive growth.

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