Today's Star Trib had an article on Minnesota cities making budget cuts in light of tough economic times.
Here in Eden Prairie- we look forward to funding a new Art Center.
I missed this week's City Council meeting- but had a chance to watch some of the video this morning. I knew there was a budget vote on the agenda and wanted to see how it all "went down".
The City Council approved the 2009 budget, back in Sept. 2007- but it needed to be formally approved this week. At the end of it all, they ended up approving a budget that is about $1.4 million higher overall than the previous years budget- the overall operating budget went up by over $1 Million. That's "only" a 2.7% increase-- gee, that's nothing! But, consider the fact that the general fund has increased by 23% in only 5 years since 2004 and 41% in 10 years since 1999. This follows the logic of the State Budget which has increased by about 50% since 2000.
Why is it so hard to freeze spending? Why is it so hard to make cuts? It all seems like a no-brainer to me. It's a simple task- albeit not an easy task.
Councilman Jon Duckstad proposed freezing the proposed 2009 tax levy at 2008 levels and shrinking then proposed 2009 budget- which called for a $2 Million increase. Duckstad stated the absolute obvious- that the economic realities since September 2007 have dramatically changed and that we are in a time of uncertainty.
Mayor Phil Young acknowledged that he and City Manager Scott Neal have had many discussions about their "philosophy" on staff pay- which is to be above the median pay in the state. Hmmm, why? What's wrong with median pay in an industry? It's a nicety to pay above-average in strong economic times- we're going into uncertain economic times and "philosphies" may need to be adjusted and staff positions may need to be cut alltogether or combined. City staff received 3% pay raises across the board while Best Buy announced this week that it's offering severance packages for almost of it's Minnesota corporate employees. I wonder if somoe of those Best Buy employees live and pay taxes in Eden Prairie.
Kathy Nelson rightly brought forward the fact that the state is likely to cut homestead exemptions- but then backed off of it...I liked that she asked to cut staff/council travel to out-of-state travel costs- to every other year. Neal said it was "only about $20,000" Kathy called for it to be cut anyway- good for her. It's peanuts, and it's an easy-target, but it's something. If people want to go to conferences to learn from other local governments how to best spend taxpayer money or to save the planet- they should do so on their own dime. Or chat with each other over the internet.
Brad Aho proposed a 0% levy increase, spending the 2008 surplus- which as I understand it- is not known for certain and won't be known until next year- and to making some spending cuts. This is what Tim Pawlenty did- spent the surplus and accepted a spending increase (albeit a lower one than the Democrats wanted) and now we have a $5 Billion+ budget deficit. It sounds like compromise- and I suppose it is. But is compromise what we need right now or is fiscal responsibility what we need right now?
We ended up with a 0% increase in the tax levy- so people will probably not even notice the increase. But really- is anybody else out there increasing their household budgets right now? Or are they maintaining and/or cutting spending and saving for a rainy day? And it ain't rain clouds out there, it's storm clouds.
We shall see.