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Bemidji, Wadena mayors: Proposed LGA cuts would be 'devastating'

Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden listens to Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann at a press conference Monday afternoon to outline LGA cuts the two cities will suffer under a proposal by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

If Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed cuts to Local Government Aid are approved, cities would be forced to cut core services, according to two northern Minnesota mayors.

"We're past the fat, past the meat and now we're into the bone," said Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden, the president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, at a press conference Monday afternoon at Bemidji City Hall.

Pawlenty last week proposed a budget that included LGA cuts totaling $246 million.

"Thousands of jobs will be lost across greater Minnesota," Wolden said. "Property taxes will increase."

Including the LGA "unallotment" from December, Bemidji would lose more than $1 million, according to Mayor Richard Lehmann.

Bemidji residents individually could see the results of those cuts in their property taxes and property insurance rates, Lehmann said.

The city could cut funding to the police or fire departments, or cut funding to the streets department, which keeps city roads maintained.

If response times are longer for emergency personnel, that could affect insurance rates, Lehmann said.

"Everything has to be talked about," he said. "Everything has to be considered. Including layoffs."

Statewide, "thousands" of city employees could face pink slips, Wolden said.

In his own city, Wolden said, the city is not looking at layoffs but part-time help has to be cut to a minimum. And the city doesn't plow snow on the weekends.

There are lots of cities that have pink slips ready, he said.

Lehmann said Bemidji would need to consider all of its options if the cuts are imposed as presented.

"We are investigating all of our options," he said.

Minnesota cities are working together and also contacting their local representatives in hopes that an alternative plan might be found, Wolden said.

"We hope to see a better proposal," Wolden said.

Cities recognize a need for cuts in LGA to respond to the state's budget deficit, but Pawlenty's proposal is not fair, Wolden said.

LGA makes up 2.8 percent of the state's budget, according to Wolden. But LGA cuts comprise 9.8 percent of all budget cuts proposed by Pawlenty.

"It's not balanced," he said.

LGA dollars are extremely important, Wolden said, because they help pay for core city services.

"They are police. They are fire. They are libraries. They are parks," he said. "They are ... salt and sand trucks."