For the past couple of weeks, MPR News has been airing stories about how cities are coming to terms with smaller budgets–reduced because of cuts in Local Government Aid, a lagging economy and declining property values.
Foley has done away with its police department in favor of hiring a private security firm. Grand Rapids is cross-training its employees and working to go paperless. In the metro area, a legislative change will likely result in higher property taxes for landlords and, therefore, higher rents.
All these stories are part of a project called “Forced to Choose,” which explores the tough choices communities are making as local governments finalize their budgets for 2012. The project is a partnership of Ground Level, which previously examined budgetary issues in our “Cities in Crisis” series, and the larger MPR newsroom.
This morning, MPR News reporter Elizabeth Baier looks at a school referendum in Owatonna that would, if passed, place a vacant Bible college campus in public hands. Purchasing the campus would allow for an expansion of the elementary school and also allay a nagging concern of city leaders: that a collection of empty buildings can become an eyesore in a hurry.
We’ll be presenting more stories along these lines–both on the air and online–in the coming months. We hope you’ll stay tuned.