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'Bleak' budget outlook adds to worries for local officials

MOORHEAD -- "Bleak" was the word local officials used Wednesday to describe a new budget forecast from the state of Minnesota that promised more dark days ahead for school, county and city budgets.

"It does look pretty bad and pretty bleak," said Clay County Administrator Vijay Sethi, reacting to indications the state's budget deficit, now pegged at $1.2 billion, could grow to $5.4 billion in the 2012-13 biennium.

"The frightening part for us is that 2012-13 biennium," said Wayne Kazmierczak, assistant superintendent for Moorhead Public Schools.

Kazmierczak said the best-case scenario would be no change in per-pupil funding the district receives from the state.

If funding is cut, Kazmierczak said the district would have to explore several options, including:

* Dipping into the district's depleted reserves, which now stand at about $4 million.

* Reducing expenditures.

* Again asking voters to support an operating levy referendum, an idea that was defeated this past November.

"To actually see a reduction in state aid, it's hard to fathom that would happen. But the revenues just aren't there," Kazmierczak said.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has hinted that some of the deficit could be made up by making more cuts in aid to local governments, a prospect Sethi doesn't relish.

"We are already coping with the loss of $2 million (in state support)," Sethi said.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said if the governor decides to make further "unallotments" in aid to local governments, it would be better if it happens after Jan. 1.

"If you have 12 days at the end of your budget (year) and you get cut 5 percent, there isn't a lot you can do," he said.

"That's what reserves are for, those sudden shocks that kind of hit you," Voxland said.