Minnesota’s communities making tough choices

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.

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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.

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