Decade’s trend shows Minnesota cities choked for funds

Source: Office of the State Auditor
When adjusted for inflation, city revenues dropped 9 percent between 2003 and 2012.

Although Minnesota cities had more money to spend in 2012 than they did in 2011, the 10-year trend shows that the cities have been choked for funds and forced to cut back on basic necessities. Deb Gau of the Marshall Independent writes about a new report by State Auditor Rebecca Otto which looks at cities’ revenue, expenditures and debt in 2012, as well as tracking financial trends during the past 10 years. While revenue for Minnesota cities grew from $3.84 billion in 2003 to $4.82 billion in 2012, when adjusted for inflation, city revenues have dropped 9 percent between 2003 and 2012, the report said. While there are many sources for the drop in revenue, Otto points to the main culprit: Cuts in state-funded Local Government Aid. Otto notes that spending also fell 16 percent from 2003 to 2012, when adjusted for inflation. Where do cities spend the bulk of their money, and therefore have to make the biggest cuts? Street and highway maintenance and public safety.

Speaking of cuts, the Brainerd School Board has approved more than $350,000 in reductions for its 2014-15 budget, according to Jenifer Stockinger of the Brainerd Dispatch. There will be more than $350,000 in staffing cuts and $220,000 in savings in retirements and resignations. Steve Lund, the district’s director of business services, said the 1.5 percent increase in state education funding couldn’t keep up with the district’s operating deficit. The board approved reductions in high-school social studies instruction, high-school math instruction, career counseling, middle-school math intervention, and $250,000 in cuts to the educational assistant support staff. Superintendent Steve Razidlo said of losing so many educational assistants: “It’s distressing.” The district will also save about $220,000 when teachers retire and are replaced by low-cost, inexperienced first-year teachers.

It’s official: Mayo Cinic researchers have found that having a big belly is detrimental to your health. The difference between this announcement and previous findings, according to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, is that Mayo researchers found that it doesn’t matter what your body mass index (BMI) is – if you have a big waist, you are “more likely to die younger, and (are) more likely to die from illnesses such as heart disease, respiratory problems, and cancer after accounting for body mass index, smoking, alcohol use and physical activity,” according to the research. The clinic noted that the “risk increased in a linear fashion such that for every 2 inches of greater circumference, mortality risk went up about 7 percent in men and about 9 percent in women,” even among people with normal BMIs. So we have that to look forward to.

“A statue in Menahga, Minn., depicts the saint with a giant grasshopper speared on his pitchfork. When the statue was dedicated in 1982, Doris Havumaki, the wife of Sulo Havumaki, was on hand to break a bottle of Wild Irish Rose wine over a toe of the statue.” Sulo Havumaki’s name is at the base of the statue. In all the hullabaloo about St. Patrick, Bethany Wesley of the Bemidji Pioneer reminds us not to forget that most Finnish of patron saints, St. Urho. She writes about the late Sulo Havumaki, a former psychology professor at Bemidji State University, who she says is one of two Minnesotans credited with “rediscovering” St. Urho, who drove the grasshoppers from Finland and saved the legendary Finnish vineyards. Apparently, Havumaki became discouraged by the press and pageantry afforded to St. Patrick. When he came to Bemidji in 1956, he began to celebrate St. Urho’s Day on March 16, wearing purple for the vineyards and green for the grasshoppers. “He always planned a parade, on the most awful routes, such as traveling in front of the wastewater treatment plant or a junkyard. Then, each was always canceled for wild reasons. One year, (his son Luke) recalled, then-Vice President Spiro Agnew was set to attend, but canceled at the last minute because, due to state matters, he was suddenly unavailable,” writes Wesley.

The other man credited with helping Finnish-Americans rediscover their heritage was the late Richard Mattson of Virginia, Minn. His version was of a saint who drove frogs from Finland, thus saving the grape crop. The website credits both men. For his part, Luke, too, has organized parades that would always be canceled. “St. Patrick has so much better PR,” he told Wesley. “I always say, ‘Are you a farmer? How many snakes are you worried about? Wouldn’t you worry more about locusts and grasshoppers? How many are going to want a saint to take on those instead of snakes?’”

The fight against the Red River flood diversion project continues, writes Mikkel Pates of Forum newspapers. Pates paraphrases the objections of Mark Askegaard, 53, a fourth-generation farmer south of Moorhead: “The diversion needlessly undermines the productivity of thousands of acres of the Red River Valley’s best and most valuable farmland, and is moving ahead despite no solid solutions for crop insurance in that area. It is billed as the best, most cost-effective way of protecting the existing Fargo-Moorhead and Cass County property from flooding, but he and other critics say they’re suffering the effects of a city simply wanting to develop land in a natural flood plain,” writes Pates. “The Askegaards (whose farm sits above the 500-year flood plain on the Minnesota side) are among a handful of farmers in a seven-mile radius who raise some 5,500 acres of certified organic grains. … The plan called for the project to retain water in a specified area, where the impact would be more predictable. There would be a control structure, a 13-foot-tall dam on the river, and tie-back levies. When the diversion is used, it could impact 50,000 acres upstream (south) from Fargo with between 1 inch and 8.5 feet of water. Askegaard’s place, 10 miles south of Moorhead, theoretically would have 3 feet of water, a ring dike and some land would be lost to the diversion dike. He said there are no assurances on how multi-peril crop insurance will be handled in shallower areas flooded by the diversion.”

Like beer but just can’t handle the wheat or barley? Then two Faribault fire eaters have just the product for you. Camey Thibodeau of the Faribault Daily News writes about Dane Breimhorst and Thomas Foss, founders of Burning Brothers Brewing in St. Paul. They offer gluten-free beer. The men met when, at age were 19, Breimhorst taught Foss how to eat fire so they could perform together at the Renaissance Festival. Breimhorst spent the next 18 years as a professional fire eater before deciding opening a brewery was a better idea. In 2010, he and Foss pursued plans to open a facility where customers can brew their own beer with supplies and know-how provided by the business. But then, as fate would have it, Breimhorst was diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where gluten found in wheat, barley and rye leads to intestinal damage. He was forced to adopt a diet free of bread and beer, which put a crimp in his brewery plans. But wait! “We figured out how to make a gluten-free beer that actually tastes like beer,” Breimhorst told Thibodeau. She writes: “BBB Tap Room/Brewery in St. Paul brewed its first batch of Pyro American Pale Ale on Dec. 15. Their product has been in metro area stores and restaurants for about a month and a half. … Foss said the company is already expanding and is working to finalize an agreement with a distributor to reach other Minnesota regions, including Faribault, Rochester, Duluth, St. Cloud and some resort areas. … “I’m glad we’re able to fill a need that is clearly underserved today,” Foss said.

Erik Daniel Christianson, 31, got into some trouble in Fairmont. Jenn Brookens of the Fairmont Sentinel writes that he has been charged with “first-degree burglary, aggravated robbery and second-degree assault after allegedly entering homes in Fairmont on Friday, and attacking one homeowner with a golf club.” Here are the details as offered by the Fairmont Police Department: A man called police at about 12:30 p.m. when he came home and, while making a sandwich, was knocked on the head by a guy wielding a golf club. The intruder demanded booze and the man gave him a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and a bottle of whiskey. Police took several bottles of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and cigarette butts found in the living room as evidence. At about 3:45 p.m., three girls called police when they smelled cigarette smoke and saw a bottle of Mike’s Hard Lemonade on a table at their house. The teens found a man in a bedroom looking at prescription pill bottles. They yelled at him to leave, and he did so. When police arrived, they saw a man trying to enter a nearby house. They identified him as Christianson, who they knew was on probation, and took him into custody. He matched the description of the intruder given by the girls and by the man attacked with the golf club. Christianson said he was homeless and looking for a warm place to stay. He admitted he had been drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes in the houses. He admitted hitting the man with the golf club because he wanted to get out of the house and didn’t want to go back to jail.

St. Cloud is getting fancy with its street lights. Kari Petrie of the St. Cloud Daily Times writes that “new lighting technology means engineers can choose lights based on how widely the light is transmitted, the color of the light and the extent of shadows and glare. So a neighborhood can have a warm, cozy feel while intersections can be brightly lit while limiting glare.” It’s all music to the ears of city Traffic System Manager Blake Redfield. He created a lab three years ago to test the quality of LED street lights. To make sure the city is buying the best lights, Redfield runs them through tests he designed to find optimal light and shadow patterns. He has also “written a program to create 3-D photo metrics that show the light’s intensity and uniformity. The setup is so well done that manufacturers bring in lights to get feedback from Redfield’s testing,” Petrie wrote. Residents can see the results on the Stearns County Road 120 roundabouts near Minnesota Highway 15. While driving, the road will remain dark until you approach the roundabout, which is brightly it. The park and ride lot in St. Joseph also has LEDs that can dim when the lot isn’t in use. “We want to make sure we have good (street light) projects,” Redfield said.

In the spirit of St Patrick’s Day, Maggi Stivers at the Pioneer in Bemidji wrote of Brian Solum – the Realtor, the wrestling coach, the bagpiper.  “I usually don’t tell people right away and when people find out, they are like ‘That’s weird,’” he told Stivers. The man referred to as Bagpipe Brian plays the Great Highland Bagpipe, which is a typical Scottish bagpipe rather than the Irish model, which is called the Uilleann pipe that is often heard in movies. He plays in the Macalester band, teaches private lessons, and performs at weddings, funerals and, of course, on St. Patrick’s Day. On Monday, he performed at Neilson Place, J.W. Smith Elementary and in “The World’s Shortest Patrick’s Day Parade” in downtown Bemidji on Monday. Older folks request the traditional songs, he said. Younger folks tend to request Lynyrd Synyrd’s “Freebird.” Although not Scottish, he loves Scotch whiskey. He owns Realty Sales and says his sons “are kind of embarrassed when dad shows up at school wearing a skirt.”

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/18/2014 - 06:38 pm.

    Just out of curiosity

    Re: the Brainard School District cuts…

    Does the district currently have an interscholastic athletic program? If so, what cuts will be made in that program to accompany the cuts in personnel and services in other fields?

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