Sunday, April 18, 2010

LGA dependence endangers City Budgets

Sunday morning is a time when I am able to get caught up on the prior week events and prepare for the upcoming week. As I am making breakfast, sausage and waffles, I read this headline in the Star Tribune's Twin Cities +Life section: Excelsior looks to lease out city land. City Council member Mary Jo Fulkerson is quoted as saying, "We do have lake property that everybody in the county uses and it's a potential revenue stream. Everybody is suffering for this lack of local government aid. We are looking at various things to be able to balance the budget." Fulkerson is correct that many cities around Minnesota are seeing a budget crunch because of cuts to local government aid.

Yesterday I had a conversation with one of Hamburg's City Council members about, among other items, local government aid. As cities around Minnesota plan their budgets the unknown of how much local government aid (LGA) is on the mind of every City Clerk. We both agreed that LGA funds need to be viewed as a bonus or potential money and not be factored in to the city budget. Much like a bonus one may receive from a job. It is okay to keep it in mind, the bonus or LGA Funds, but should not be counted on becoming reality until it happens. This does not mean City Councils should not earmark how to use LGA funds instead City Councils should not count on it as part of their operating budgets. The same philosophy needs to be applied in St. Paul too. By looking at LGA money as a bonus and not part of the operating budget cities should not experiencing deficits going forward.

The other aspect of the article that raised my ire was the statement by City Manager Kristi Luger, "We literally get nothing from the state now…We need to look at all of our resources and one resource we do have is land." Several years ago a decision in Excelsior was made to eliminate softball tournaments at the Excelsior Commons. The City of Excelsior made it increasingly more difficult for organizers to attract teams that once flocked to the Commons during the summer. Many summers of my youth entailed several trips to the Excelsior Commons to watch my dad and mom participate in softball tournaments. One of the biggest tournaments was Carmichaels which attracted hundreds of people. The place was packed starting Friday evening until the final game on Sunday afternoon. Now, I recognize that softball tournaments alone will not make up for the loss of LGA funds but it definitely would benefit the city and businesses of Excelsior.

Responsible government is the order of the day and for our local governments to become dependent on LGA is a microcasm of a greater problem of American co-dependence on Big Government solutions.