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Citizens question budget items

By Staff | Apr 6, 2009

Joe Fering addresses the Blue Earth City Council.

When the Blue Earth City Council held a public hearing asking for input on proposed budget cuts, the first response came as a surprise to many.

Resident Greg Holland asked why his tax statement – received that day in the mail – showed a reduction in city tax.

“My city tax was down about 20 percent,” Holland points out. “I think you should have kept it the same, or even raised it, to prevent having to cut the budget.”

City Administrator Kathy Bailey agreed, but said the reduction was mandated by the state.

“They set a levy limit, so we actually had to reduce our property tax levy amount, instead of increasing it,” Bailey says.

Lennie Clement was one of several citizens to speak about the proposed budget cuts.

Ironically, the state mandated the reduction because of the large amount of local government aid (LGA) they were giving to the city, Bailey says. Then in December the state cut that LGA payment amount.

Holland says he is willing to pay a little more in local taxes in order to ensure getting the services we need.

“I want a good police department, fire department, parks, economic development director,” Holland says. “Not to mention streets.”Bailey had started last Monday evening’s public meeting by outlining the proposed cuts to the 2009 budget, which total $264,936.

She also explained what the state had done to Blue Earth’s LGA payments.

“Our city budget is $7.1 million,” Bailey says. “Of that amount, about 20 percent is LGA payments from the state.”

At the end of 2008, the state cut the second LGA payment by 20 percent, or $109,000.

“Now the governor’s proposal for LGA cuts – or unallotments as he calls them – totals another $163,000,” Bailey says.

The total is $272,755, or very close to the $264,936 in cuts Bailey has proposed.

At Monday’s meeting, citizens had other questions about the budget itself.

Joe Fering asked about the costs to operate the airport and the swimming pool.

Bailey responded that the city’s expenses on the airport last year were $137,000, with only $27,000 of that amount from the city’s tax levy revenue – the rest was covered by the state and federal governments.

The pool, she says, had expenses of $109,000, and about $50,000 of that amount was not covered by revenues.

Fering pointed out that citizens raised $750,000 to build the pool, and that not opening the pool for the season should not even be considered.

He also questioned spending $300,000 of city money in the next two years for doing an airport expansion project, and called for a second opinion as to the need to do it.

“With a larger airport just 18 miles away, that is better, I wonder why we need one at all,” Fering says.

Other citizens asked about potential cuts in the police department, and doing more sharing of work with other cities.