Even small cuts in state aid can cause big problems for Minnesota’s small towns and counties

First of three articles

Wheaton's Broadway business district

MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Wheaton’s Broadway business district

WHEATON, MINN. — In the biggest city of the state’s least populous county, the effects of seemingly small cuts in Local Government Aid are felt in large ways.

Examining Minnesota's local aid lifeline

Here in this city of 1,449 — tucked west of Alexandria and east of both Dakota borders — state funding cuts highlight the challenge for the next governor, whoever he may be. Wheaton is the county seat of Traverse County. With 3,581 residents, Traverse ranks 87th in population among Minnesota’s 87 counties.

Budget reductions at this scale provide tiny examples of a more universal problem: Local units of government have been trimmed to the bone, and budgeting for city administrators has become a painful and uncertain process.

Meanwhile, buzzwords such as “redesign” or “live within your means” might not be enough, or even apply, to places where, on a recent night, City Council members debated whether to waive a $500 fee for a homeowner seeking to demolish her property. At issue, among others, was the prospect of losing that sort of chump change, which goes straight to a small city’s bottom line.

Those bottom lines have been ravaged by LGA reductions and necessarily replaced by countervailing, and substantial, increases in property tax levies.

“Down in the cities, they think we have frills,” said Wheaton Mayor Leonard Zimmel, whose full-time job is maintenance worker for the state Department of Transportation. “We’re used to working bare-bone — that’s the way we operate in these small towns. When they do something like those cuts, there’s no fat. We don’t feel we have the fat to cut.”

Wheaton, Minn.

Google Maps
Wheaton, Minn.

It is easy in such places as Minneapolis and St. Paul to get lost in the zeroes of $20 million reductions from Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the Legislature’s budgeting, and to be turned off by the screechy politics that go along with them. But in places like Wheaton, the cuts seem so much more quaint, and, so, in some ways, much more understandable, as if the reductions are from a family budget and not an impersonal spreadsheet.

Indeed, the cuts are more personal because city leaders know just about every one of their constituent/taxpayers.

Wheaton took an $82,500 hit from LGA reduction this year. That’s about what Twins catcher Joe Mauer pockets for every game he plays.

But here’s what it has meant for a city that was expecting about $700,000 in Local Government Aid but lost about 12 percent of it: Wheaton didn’t fill a public works supervisor position; it transferred the utility billing clerk off the city payroll; the city administrator must take unpaid leave every Friday afternoon and a week furlough annually; street repaving has been delayed or abandoned; library hours were cut; some upgrades to city facilities to abide by the Americans With Disabilities Act were delayed.

Wheaton City Administrator Jamie Beyer noted that because of reduction in force in the parks department, the city has had to rely on inmates at the Traverse County Law Enforcement Center and Jail to perform some tasks. “Those inmates, they have really saved us,” she said. “It’s like, sometimes we say [to the local police], ‘Catch that one again!’ “

But, of course, that is an issue, too. Wheaton had to put off buying a new police car because of budget concerns.

Said Beyer: “I know people say [of city budget cuts], ‘It’s just a 10 percent cut,’ but 10 percent of a park, of a swimming pool, of a police department, that’s a lot,” she said.

In the innards of Wheaton budgets and policy decisions is the reality of spiking property taxes to cover the loss of LGA, a see-saw effect generally seen around the state. Since 2007, Wheaton’s city levy for public services has increased by more than 19 percent. That was necessary to keep the city’s $1.1 million budget balanced.

Jamie Beyer, Wheaton's city adminstrator, grew up there, left for college and came back to run city operations.

MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Jamie Beyer, Wheaton’s city adminstrator, grew up there, left for college and came back to run city operations.

But if something like extending sewers to new homes or fixing the roads is on anyone’s agenda, forget about it, said Mayor Zimmel. He doesn’t want to burden his city taxpayers with more assessments, even though some Wheaton streets haven’t had an asphalt overlay for 30 years, he said.

LGA’s history
As for LGA, it began in 1971 soon after a statewide sales tax was established. LGA was meant as a state equalization program, and its first distributions went to counties to trickle down to cities. Those who remember its inception considered LGA part of the so-called “Minnesota Miracle,” and viewed it as a commitment from the state to recognize that folks in small towns might not always shop on their own Main Street — and Main Streets were still flourishing then — but perhaps in the regional center nearby, such as Alexandria or Moorhead or Rochester.

It was “a promise made to municipalities that you would get Local Government Aid and the state would have this new revenue source called the sales tax and the state would be fair” in redistributing it to cities, said David Pederson, city clerk of Glyndon (pop. 1,176) who has been a Minnesota city administrator since 1970.

Soon, state funding went directly to cities via LGA, inflation was built in and by 2002, about $565 million was going to local units of government.

Eight years later, LGA distributions are amounting to about $430 million, or a full 24 percent cut during the administration of Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The much-talked-about LGA “formula” has gone through many complex changes. Opponents of the concept believe its uses have been abused and that, in a state that can’t use deficit spending, cities must suffer when the state’s finances do.

For a city like Wheaton, with population under 2,500, factors for LGA are: the age of the housing stock, the population decline in the past 10 years, the commercial/industrial property market value and population.

The basic concept of LGA is to determine a city’s expenditure needs versus its ability to pay. Among the factors in Wheaton’s “ability to pay” is its revenue-raising capacity, or, property taxes. As Wheaton’s LGA funding has decreased, its city residents have paid more property taxes. This is an economic and political issue.

Many of Wheaton and Traverse County’s residents are on fixed incomes. While the agricultural economy remains strong and even gives Wheaton and the county a leg up on some other small counties, the demographics of the area are turning grayer by the minute. Traverse County’s population has decreased in every U.S. Census since 1950. There are more people 75 or older in Traverse County than there are children under 14.

Traverse County, Minnesota

Wikipedia Commons
Traverse County, Minnesota

In 2009, 38 children were born to Traverse County residents, the same number of kids born at Hennepin County Medical Center every five days.

This year so far, 16 children have been born in the county, but 35 people have died. By 2020, 25 percent of the county will be 65 or older, and the county’s population is expected to decline by 10 percent.

Still, because of county aid cuts and a policy decision by the Traverse County Board not to raise property taxes county-wide, a human services satellite office in Browns Valley, about 24 miles south of Wheaton, was shuttered. Clients must get to Wheaton, but County Coordinator Janet Raguse told MinnPost in an email that “at times transportation is a hardship for citizens.”

There’s another contradiction: While the population ages and declines, the size of farms grows larger and larger. Although that has brought some prosperity to Wheaton’s service businesses — such as physicians, the drugstore and, certainly, the grain elevator — the county, according to Raguse, “has had difficulty maintaining roads in the manner necessary to accommodate the ever-increasing demands of the larger farming operations.”

Progress and pain
Wheaton is a progressive community and working hard to fight the trends of population loss in Greater Minnesota while preserving a friendly, if quiet, quality of life. The health of the current agricultural economy has aided the city, even if the business district on Broadway is a bit frayed, and Dueber’s, the local department store, recently shut its doors, unable to compete with the Fargo mall an hour and 15 minute drive away.

Wheaton has its own Economic Development Authority. Its director, Harold Bruce, aggressively courts manufacturing companies with low-interest loans and other creative financing structures to fill industrial sites within the city. Bruce, who has been Wheaton’s economic development cheerleader for 20 years, recently showed City Council members two new homes built in town that were each sold instantly for $135,000 to senior citizens moving off a farm.

The downturn in the general state and national economy has smothered Bruce’s ability to fill some industrial properties that lost tenants to bankruptcy or out-of-U.S. locales. But he’s hopeful.

“In my heart, I’d like to see Wheaton stand where it is, and see some growth in manufacturing, and work to bring the kids back,” he said. Or even jobs that would appeal to others outside of the region.

Economic Development Agency Director Harold Bruce shows City Council members a new housing project.

MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Economic Development Agency Director Harold Bruce shows City Council members a new housing project.

That heartfelt hope lives within Jamie Beyer, too, who grew up in Wheaton and returned there after her college and post-graduate years to become her hometown’s city administrator four years ago.

At 32, Beyer, the mother of three small children, oversees all of the city’s business operations, supports the city council, manages the city’s relation to the county and now, because of cutbacks, also supervises the public works department. Her salary is supposed to be $57,867 a year, but she has taken a $2,600 pay cut as part of a furlough program established to reduce city spending.

She’s a hardened public employee, but in a small city, all politics are personal. As someone who grew up in this city — her father, a plumbing and heating worker; her mom, a substitute teacher — Beyer knows everyone. The cuts hurt.

“It’s terrible,” she said of her need to keep trimming the budget and services. The city librarian was the librarian at the school when Beyer was a girl. “I’ve known her all my life.” But hours had to be cut.

“You want your home town to stay this little, sweet haven that you remember when things get tough. You don’t want to tarnish those memories. You want your kids to have the same access to things that you had.”

But she and city leaders have had to put off buying new snow-removal equipment. Only a handful of streets Mayor Zimmel wanted paved this year could be paid for. Basic capital improvements are being put off.

“In 10 years, this is going to be an issue,” said Beyer. She was talking about a list of matters, from water and sewer extension to landfill issues to the city airport to full-time police protection. But she was also talking about the future of Wheaton, the future of Minnesota’s small cities, the future of counties with dwindling and dying residents, the future of state aid.

She was talking about the funding of Greater Minnesota’s future.

Thursday: Redesigning services in Greater Minnesota

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Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/27/2010 - 09:44 am.

    I wonder what Jamie Beyer might think of Chris Coleman and RT Rybak’s tin cup pilgrimages to the legislature.

    Do you think the citizens of small towns such as Wheaton feel a sense of pride in knowing that their sacrifices enable the mayor of Saint Paul to create a triply redundent human rights department?

    Do you think they feel a glow of pride knowing they have contributed to the new garden rooftops of Minneapolis public buildings?

    I aver, I have my doubts.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 10/27/2010 - 10:29 am.

    But of course Tom Emmer has just said that LGA is not important since most of it just goes to big cities.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/27/2010 - 11:18 am.

    Every city in MN has had it’s LGA cut. The article illustrates how those cuts hit small towns with limited resources hard, and why. It has nothing to do with rooftop gardens. This is the reality of “small government”. It is predictable, and it was predicted.

  4. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/27/2010 - 11:51 am.

    This is a fine piece, Jay. I look forward to the coming installments.

    Having spent several years in volunteer municipal service in a small city in Colorado (about the size of St. Cloud, which is many times larger than Wheaton), I can vouch for the “everybody knows everybody” atmosphere, and the truth behind the notion that diminishing services, pay cuts, involuntary “furloughs” and the like become personal and painful. So are property taxes to make up the difference, especially for those living on a fixed income, or in a risk-laden occupation like farming. The proverbial rock and hard place come to mind.

    As is often the case, Mr. Swift is tossing out a red herring. The Twin Cities have most of the state’s population, produce most of the state’s jobs and income, collect most of the state’s taxes, and have a much greater proportion of the state’s problem issues, whether street potholes, crime, water quality, trash collection, etc. It’s rational that the metro area get the largest share of LGA money, which is based, after all, on a fairly complicated formula that takes into account “ability to pay,” among other factors.

    The issue is the survival – more than survival, actually – the continued health and prosperity of rural and small town Minnesota. In a purely agricultural, much less technological society, perhaps that wouldn’t be as great a concern, and if the economy completely collapses, Wheaton may find itself in a rather enviable position, since there’s likely to be food available, but unless/until then, the world has changed since Wheaton was founded. Family farms are disappearing along with the family farmers, to be replaced, sometimes, by corporate agri-business, and as we’ve seen, corporate agri-business is not always family-friendly, whether as employer, producer, or neighbor.

    As a newbie, I don’t know the history of LGA very well yet, but Colorado has what seems to be a similar agency (DOLA – Department of Local Affairs) that performed similar functions and provided similar funding assistance – though on a much smaller scale. Given the importance of LGA assistance over the generation it’s been in existence, it behooves any governor, regardless of political party, to remember daily that s/he has to govern the whole state. Not just the big cities, not just the small towns, not just the farmers, not just the most profitable manufacturers.

    “No new taxes, ever” is a death sentence for the “Minnesota Miracle,” if such a miracle ever existed. Further cuts in LGA will hardly be of help to communities like Wheaton. As has been examined here on MinnPost, the assertion that only about half of Minnesota’s communities get LGA money is largely true, but that’s because the communities that don’t get that additional assistance are prosperous or affluent enough that they don’t need it. They don’t qualify on a means-based system, and community size makes no difference in that context.

    I’m looking forward to the next episode to see how “redesigning services” will try to meet this latest challenge.

  5. Submitted by Carol Logie on 10/27/2010 - 12:58 pm.

    “Down in the cities, they think we have frills,” said Wheaton Mayor Leonard Zimmel, whose full-time job is maintenance worker for the state Department of Transportation. “We’re used to working bare-bone — that’s the way we operate in these small towns. When they do something like those cuts, there’s no fat. We don’t feel we have the fat to cut.”

    Actually, “down in the Cities”, we’re tired of taking up the slack when you can’t pay for basic services, only to see you electing whackos who cut budgets AND GIVE TAX CUTS TO RICH PEOPLE. “They” is YOU, Mr. Mayor.

    I bet I can drive through Wheaton and see nothing but Emmer signs and “Tax =Tyranny” bumper stickers, the same as many other small towns and rural municipalities in this state. But when it comes down to *your* library, *your* roads, etc., suddenly it’s “they” who are at fault: the elitist, socialist, latte drinking, big city people who have no idea what it’s like in “real” America.

    If you have no fat, it’s your fault. It’s what you voted for.

  6. Submitted by Shawn Otto on 10/27/2010 - 01:01 pm.

    In 2003 then-State Auditor Pat Anderson was the first to propose the LGA cuts that have devastated Greater Minnesota, saying LGA could be cut by 43%. Current State Auditor Rebecca Otto has shown how those cuts have driven city property tax revenues up 102%. Now Pat Anderson is running for State Auditor again. Hopefully residents of Greater Minnesota realize what is at stake for their communities.

  7. Submitted by Carol Logie on 10/27/2010 - 01:27 pm.

    And if the Minneapolis wants rooftop gardens and can find the money to pay for it, so what? Isn’t that what “local” control is all about? If we value human rights, and greening our city to reduce our energy bills and pollution, we also pay the higher taxes to foot the bill for it.

    I love how the tea party types are all “don’t tread on me” and “we the people”, until the people do something they don’t like. Then it’s boot on the head time.

  8. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/27/2010 - 01:44 pm.

    “Every city in MN has had its LGA cut.”

    That would be a good trick, since there are dozens of cities, large and small that have never received a penny of LGA.

    “The Twin Cities have most of the state’s population, produce most of the state’s jobs and income, collect most of the state’s taxes, and have a much greater proportion of the state’s problem issues, whether street potholes, crime, water quality, trash collection, etc. It’s rational that the metro area get the largest share of LGA money..”

    Well, I understand you’re new around here Ray, so you would have no way of knowing that LGA was created to assist cities that had the least of the state’s population, produce less of the state’s jobs and income, and are therefore unable to collect enough taxes to keep their potholes filled, the lights on and the fire department equipped.

    In other words, you’ve just laid out all the reasons Saint Paul and Minneapolis should be among the many cities that don’t receive LGA at all.

    Looks like Jay has picked a topic that many leftists are wholly ignorant of. I’m happy to help educate all in the hope that eventually an informed debate may arise.

  9. Submitted by John Sinna on 10/27/2010 - 01:48 pm.

    Cut the cord…why should the productove continue to bail out the unproductive? If you want services, you have to live in a place that supports the services that you want…there is no reason that self sufficient places should have to continue to pump bad after good to allow people to maintain what is a bad choice.

  10. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 10/27/2010 - 02:13 pm.

    Rural Minnesota is not a uniform collection of conservative rubes!

    There are multiple regions where, by virtue of the nature of those who settled that region, whether because of nationality or religious affiliation, tend to be more conservative or more liberal.

    Out here in West Central Minnesota, the political bent of communities just a few miles apart can be as different as night and day.

    Don’t lump us all together!

    Still, we do need to find ways to counter the kinds of dysfunctions exhibited by some of the people who live out here (and in the cities, too, for that matter) who are, quite literally, locked into the extreme ends of a particular political perspective and enraged when asked to consider any evidence which might refute their own pet ideas and ideals and encourage them to open their minds,…

    One way to counter those dysfunctions is to educate young parents about how to raise their children in healthier ways so that they don’t program these dysfunctions into them because it is true that, in certain regions of Minnesota and in certain regions of the US (located geographically in very similar places in relation to the whole), each generation seems to inflict the same dysfunctions on their children that their own parents inflicted on them.

    This may even go back to the “old country” and may have provided the motivation for why members of certain groups left their homelands to travel halfway across the planet in order to find a place to settle (they couldn’t get along within anyone in the old country, either).

    The result is too many people who are, on the whole, generally miserably angry, and who, although they will often vote against their own best interests, can’t fathom that this is what they’re doing or that they could possibly vote any other way.

  11. Submitted by B Maginnis on 10/27/2010 - 02:35 pm.


    “Cut the cord…why should the productove continue to bail out the unproductive? If you want services, you have to live in a place that supports the services that you want…there is no reason that self sufficient places should have to continue to pump bad after good to allow people to maintain what is a bad choice”.

    Exacly, but the entitlement mentality of the left knows no bounds.

    Kappahn calling for state education of parents and children.

    Nuff said.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/27/2010 - 03:33 pm.

    //Cut the cord…why should the productove continue to bail out the unproductive?

    It’s not a question of productivity, it’s a question of population. MN’s farms are some of the most productive in the world, but you can’t get the same dollars out of a smaller population. This kind of mean spirited wedge thinking pitting one community against another based on population is simply counter productive, and it’s the Republican agenda BD, no the liberal agenda.

    The whole point of civilization is to provide a decent standard of living for as many people as possible. We didn’t cut LGA because we couldn’t afford it, we cut it because Republican’s have been dismantling the government instead of running it. And yes, there was a lot of support for that agenda in the rural areas. The greatest political accomplishment of the 20th was the Republican success at getting so many people to vote against their own best interests. So be fair, Republicans have always lied, they’ve always pulled a bait and switch. Emmer’s doing it now, claiming he’ll balance budgets by making government better without cutting services. It’s a lie, he’ll cut services and he knows it. It’s always amazed me that so many people keep falling for this dog-n-pony show over and over again. Well, maybe not this time.

  13. Submitted by Jeff Goldenberg on 10/27/2010 - 04:04 pm.

    I’m torn here.

    On the one hand, as part of my work, I just spent a few minutes thumbing through the State of Minnesota AFSCME contract. Breaks, long lunches, benefits, generous daily overtime provisions, 13 sick days, 13-29 vacation days depending on seniority, 10 paid holidays – that’s for every employee. A thirty year AFSCME employee gets 52 days off per year (one in five days off!). Your run-of-the-mill eight year employee gets 46 days off annually (better than one in six days off). And that’s all before the 12 documented and approved types of additional paid leave for which every union state employee can be eligible. There are a lot of feathered beds in that 400+ page rat’s nest of a contract.

    On the other hand, have you been to South Dakota? Spend a few hours in nearly any SD town and you will thank your lucky stars that you reside in a state that taxes its citizens. Parks? Public space? Some small sign of planning? Forget it. You can’t even walk two blocks without passing a low rent state run betting parlor. Those endless “relocate to South Dakota” ads make me chuckle.

    So what’s the answer? I’m not sure. Whatever it is, not even the Kool Aid drinkers among us can think Dayton, Emmer or Horner hold the key. The problem is communities like Wheaton don’t have much time.

  14. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/27/2010 - 04:13 pm.

    “The whole point of civilization is to provide a decent standard of living for as many people as possible.”

    That may work for leftists, but for freedom loving people, the point of civilization is to provide a secure and stable environment to allow each man and woman to provide as high a standard of living for themselves as possible.

    Societies that decide standards of living for their members are called dictatorships.

  15. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 10/27/2010 - 05:01 pm.

    Lots of shouting here. Maybe a new governing approach is called for to help this area and many other rural areas be more efficient in government. Maybe the county should administer all government functions within the county. Communities would be more like neighborhoods. Public works, administration, parks, could all be administered more efficiently and probably more effectively.

    Maybe if our current governor had paid a bit more attention and actually came up with some ideas for better management, we could we well on our way to implementing these types of solutions.

    Mr. Swift, your limitation of government function to provide only a safe and stable environment would seem to eliminate schools, parks, roads, airports, sewage treatment, water systems. Or, on the other hand, some would say that a safe and stable environment would include health care for all, after-school care for children and other untold liberal ideas.

  16. Submitted by John Reinan on 10/27/2010 - 05:02 pm.

    Greg Kapphahn, do you have any connection to Fergus Falls? Any relation to Tim Kapphahn or Cathy Kapphahn?

  17. Submitted by Carol Logie on 10/27/2010 - 05:04 pm.

    “Societies that decide standards of living for their members are called dictatorships.”

    We are privileged to be having these discussions from the safety of comfortable houses or offices with internet connections, lucky to have a free press available to all and the first amendment to protect what we say, no matter how dumb or hateful. It’s amazing to me how conservatives chase this illusion of self sufficiency without ever having to be self sufficient in any real sense of the word. If not having your guy in the White House makes this a dictatorship, then someone needs to go to the library and look up the a couple words like “Trujillo” and “Taylor”.

  18. Submitted by John Sinna on 10/27/2010 - 05:18 pm.

    How about this…raise property taxes and you are done, case closed. Cities like Minneapolis keep raising taxes because costs keep going up…people live elsewhere, in many cases, to avoid the taxes…yet they get the benefit of subsidies. The solution is easy – raise local property taxes. Why should residents of cities pay more in taxes to support themselves and even more to subsidize the choices other people make?

  19. Submitted by David Greene on 10/27/2010 - 07:05 pm.

    Jeff, I have never understood that particular anti-union argument. If you think that people participating in unions are getting an unfairly better deal than you, then form a union! We should be improving our lives, not destroying them in a race to the bottom.

    Bill C. makes a good point that many planning experts have advocated for a while. We should consolidate services. We have far too many units of government. Note that this is NOT the same as saying government is “too big,” whatever that means. It simply means that in many places services unnecessarily overlap (police, fire, libraries, etc.) and can be consolidated to gain efficiency. Everything should be on the table, including merging some cities, counties, school districts, etc. with their peers.

    Good health and safe environments is not solely a liberal notion. It seems pretty obvious to me that to thrive one must be healthy and safe. There are complex interactions at play and it’s not helpful to demonize this or that policy in isolation.

  20. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/27/2010 - 07:28 pm.

    As the ignorant newbie, other issues come to mind above and beyond local property taxes vs. LGA funds.

    Among the questions that occur to me in relation to Wheaton’s problems is one I used to ask in Colorado, as well, at least rhetorically. The town may have a reason for being – agricultural areas have to have gathering places for the provision of at least some services, not to mention occasional human contact outside one’s immediate family and neighbors – but why does Traverse County exist as a governmental entity if the county contains only 3,581 people? I understand the “small government” argument, but one of the drawbacks is that, at least at this scale, it would seem that “small government” might well be far more expensive than it needs to be because there’s a kind of costly and perhaps unnecessary redundancy built into county services (required by state statute?).

    If it’s really difficult for Traverse County to provide road, sanitation, law enforcement and other services due to issues of affordability, residents might be better served, and better off financially, if Traverse County merged with a neighboring county. I’ve not yet been to that part of the state in person, so perhaps there’s no advantage to be gained by doing so if bordering counties are in equally bad shape, but Minnesota has a LOT of rural counties with very small populations, and those circumstances would seem to lend themselves pretty readily to the kinds of problems Jay’s piece lays out for Wheaton, but on a county-wide basis. Maybe consolidation would be a useful tool, just as a lot of rural school districts have consolidated.

    Or, thinking in print here, an alternative might be to make a substantial state investment in communications infrastructure so that rural communities were technologically on a par with urban/metro areas, rather than playing catch-up when it came to things like conducting city or county-related business via the web. Jamie Beyer is probably tech-savvy, and she and her coworkers might have some good ideas about how city and county-related tasks could be conducted electronically. I have no idea if it would work on the ground, but once the initial investment in equipment is made, the work itself might be much lower in cost per transaction than people having to drive to town to get things taken care of in person.

    Indeed, there’s a certain element of “What’s the Matter With Kansas” in small towns, and knee-jerk reactionaries will sometimes fulminate against their own interests, but that doesn’t mean the state (and other communities in the state) have to cooperate in the delusion. Many small towns all over the country – certainly some in Colorado – suffer from the same schizophrenic relationship with government. Humans are rarely consistent in their beliefs, and I do remember a similar heated discussion after another MinnPost piece that revolved around LGA funding.

    I’m willing to be corrected, but it was my understanding that LGA funding is largely unrelated to population, and is basically means-tested. Communities that have the financial wherewithal to provide a full spectrum of services do so, and those that don’t get LGA help from the state fund. That would – and does, if I remember that previous discussion more or less correctly – account for the fact that quite a number of communities in Minnesota don’t get any LGA money at all. They’re prosperous enough and/or affluent enough that they don’t need the assistance.

    If that’s close to a realistic description of how it works, then there’s no reason why Minneapolis and St. Paul would – or should – necessarily be excluded from LGA funds, since big cities typically have higher incomes, but also have higher expenses in just about every area just because they’re dealing with many more people. If income per capita has something to do with the funding formula, then the Twin Cities might well be just as needy as Wheaton – a key difference being that the Twin Cities, to a degree, might have other resources to use in an emergency that aren’t available to Wheaton. That said, however, an 8-year “emergency” seems likely to exhaust any “rainy-day” fund imaginable.

    So, I’m looking forward to the next installment in the series, to see how services might be redesigned.

  21. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 10/27/2010 - 09:31 pm.

    John Sinna,
    Lots of things go into a community quality of life. When the state and federal government plow millions into metro infrastructure for highways, sewer interceptors and bridges, high quality commercial development follows. Picture the difference between Eagan, Plymouth, Eden Prairie, Maple Grove and Shoreview and communities without similar infrastructure assets. The first set of communities get corporate headquarters, the other set gets less attractive housing development. One can raise their property taxes a bit and raise millions; the others need to raise their rate significantly to raise the same amount of revenue. Some cities have significant tax exempt property that require services.

    In short, unequal distribution of government provided assets requires balancing through local government aids.

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/27/2010 - 10:00 pm.

    //How about this…raise property taxes and you are done,

    Again, that only works if you have sufficient populations with sufficient incomes. We have LGA for a reason.

    “freedom loving people” John?

  23. Submitted by John Sinna on 10/28/2010 - 09:48 am.

    All of the posters who argue for continued assistance rely on the continuance of items that themselves should be debated…similar to most of the issues we face, the big items move the needle. If a community cannot sustain itself without constant hand outs from others that can, the answer is clear – save those that work and let the others try to fend for themselves…why sink the entire system in order to keep some folksy dreams alive.

  24. Submitted by Jeff Goldenberg on 10/28/2010 - 10:18 am.

    Mr. Greene:

    When you say everything should be on the table, do you mean to say everything should be on the table except the State of Minnesota’s AFSCME contract?

    To leave the number one expense item in our state’s budget off the table when so many in our state are suffering would seem a difficult position to defend.

    State employees, as I understand it, are working on behalf of us, the citizens of Minnesota.

    AFSCME’s largesse and naked use of power are used to protect and maintain pay rates, work rules, paid benefit time and benefits that serve only their membership, not our state and its citizens.

    I will not ascribe motives to your position as you incorrectly have of mine. The hypocrisy of your position I believe, speaks for itself.

  25. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/28/2010 - 01:38 pm.

    //State employees, as I understand it, are working on behalf of us, the citizens of Minnesota.

    AFSCME’s largesse and naked use of power are used to protect and maintain pay rates, work rules, paid benefit time and benefits that serve only their membership, not our state and its citizens.

    Mr. Goldberg and other, maybe instead of trying to worsen conditions for others, you should be trying to improve your own conditions.

    And before you whine about paying government salaries let me point out some basic economics 101: you pay everyone’s salaries. The dollars that go to government and the dollars that go into the private sector are the same dollars, from the same source. The difference between government workers and private sector workers is the GWs aren’t making a profit for someone else.

    Government workers do work for you, and the quality of your services depends on the quality of those workers. It’s kinda like the difference between police officer and a mall cop. Why would you want to race to the bottom and replace highly qualified professionals with the minimum wage hacks?

    It’s a perverse environment indeed when you have a group of people who are dedicated to helping you all with all your various problems and issues from unemployment to small business loans, and all you can do is sit around and try to figure out how to inflict economic damage on them. THEY’RE not hurting you. They didn’t create the housing bubble, or the tech bubble, or defund your schools. They didn’t blow up an oil rig in the Gulf, or fire you, or outsource your job, or drop you from your health care plan. They didn’t foreclose your house or jack your credit rates up to 29%. They are there to help. They put out your fires, protect your families, send out your unemployment and social security checks, provide job training and job search assistance. They protect your food supply and provide health care to those who can’t get it anywhere else. They fix your water mains when they break and plow your roads so you can get to work. And NONE of them are getting rich doing this, there are no millionaire government workers. They provide all these services and so much more and all some of you can do is sit around hurl insults and anger. You have no problem paying some guy millions of dollars to do something or another with some kind of ball, but you hit the roof if the people that plow your roads get paid vacation.

    YOU decided YOU don’t need a contract with your employer. YOU decided YOU don’t need a pension because your so smart you can do better with a 401K. YOU decided you don’t need vacation or health care now because you’re going to be rich someday. That was YOUR decision, not someone else’s. Other people made other decisions and now you want to drag everyone into the same hole your dug for yourself.

    Government workers get paid what they get paid for the same any CEO gets what they get, they have a contract. The unions show you how make a better life for yourself, instead you seem to want to race to the bottom… and you have a healthy head start. Cheers.

  26. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/28/2010 - 01:47 pm.

    //If a community cannot sustain itself without constant hand outs from others that can, the answer is clear – save those that work and let the others try to fend for themselves…why sink the entire system in order to keep some folksy dreams alive.

    These communities aren’t just sustaining themselves, they sustain us- do you not know where your food comes from Mr. Sinna? Our system isn’t even close to sinking, we have a 164 billion dollar economy in this state. We can easily afford LGA, and we wouldn’t be inflicting this hardship on small towns had we not tried to get something for nothing with idiotic tax cuts in the first place.

  27. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/28/2010 - 04:22 pm.

    Paul Ustrand:

    Please run for public office.

  28. Submitted by David Greene on 10/28/2010 - 04:39 pm.

    Jeff, the existing contract cannot be on the table. It’s a contract. It will be on the table when it’s renewed.

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