Auditor: Minnesota cities cut spending and held property tax share flat

If you track the taxing and spending pressures on local governments in Minnesota, as we’ve done here, then the annual state auditor’s report on city finances is more interesting than it sounds.

Auditor Rebecca Otto’s office put out its annual take Thursday, toting up the numbers from 2011, which, as you may recall was a year frought with angst over state aid and tough economic times.

The bottom line? Minnesota’s cities spent 4 percent less in 2011 than they did in 2010. And when you look long term and adjust for inflation, city spending dropped 20 percent over 10 years. What’s interesting about this chart is that, after rising or holding steady for years, actual spending even before adjusting for inflation now has dropped in the most recent year.

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Current expenditures declined, as you might expect, but spending on debt service and capital outlays dropped by double digits over 10 years. The big ticket item for cities is still public safety and mayors and council members typically go after that last. But even that number has started to decline after adjusting for inflation.

And where’s the money coming from? The share coming from property taxes has been rising in recent years but actually stayed flat at 38 percent in 2011. That surprised me, given the tightening of state aid available, but it apparently shows local officials were keeping a lid on local taxes as well.

You can find the whole auditor’s report here.