Minnesota cities have a bunch of choices this fall — all of them bad, it seems.
That’s clear in the regional meetings the League of Minnesota Cities has started. And it was clear in a conversation I had with Kay Kuhlmann last week.
Kuhlmann is the council administrator for the city of Red Wing, charged with putting together a budget everybody can agree on and live with during 2012. It’s tough going.
Reductions in several kinds of state aid have left the city of 16,000 residents with a $1.8 million nut to crack in the next month or two. This is after 34 jobs have been cut in the past three years — 18 percent of City Hall.
Raising property taxes is one choice and the city has notified the public that it could raise the overall levy on all taxpayers by 5 percent. That, Kuhlmann says, would bring in $600,000. She’s suggested using a fund balance to cover another $200,000.
The rest of the choices involve cutting services Red Wing residents like.
Bicycle lane stripes? Who needs them, some might say. Fine. That’s $20,000. What else?
Close the swimming pool? Sell the golf course? Consolidate law enforcement with the county? Contract for planning and engineering services?
The hard thing, Kuhlmann says, is that every idea has an enemy.
A change in ditch-clearing methods saved labor costs but is bringing a homeowner’s threat of a lawsuit. Most people approve of selling the golf course but opponents are vocal and besides, how much can you get for a golf course these days?
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Kuhlmann said. “Every choice they have, they feel like is a bad choice. They get pushback on every idea. It’s getting pretty ugly.”
From Washington, D.C., to Red Wing, it seems, consensus is much talked about and difficult to arrive at.
Adding to the tension is the elimination of the state’s market value homestead credit and the substitution of a homestead exclusion from the property base. That’s going to have varying impacts on residents’ and businesses’ taxes, and details are still being calculated.
Ground Level chronicled the tough choices Red Wing had to make a year ago at budget time. It was a good microcosm then and that is still true.
The choices have only gotten harder.