Community Budget Meetings:
- Watch the Feb. 17 meeting
- 5:30 to 7 p.m. Feb. 24 in the Bullard Rainforest Auditorium at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory Visitor Center, 1225 Estabrook Drive.
In the midst of a long winter cold spell, it is easy to remember that we don’t necessarily live in Minnesota for the weather. Rather, our love for this place is based on the knowledge that we have a quality of life second to none. Much of this comes from a long-standing commitment to community infrastructure that allows families to flourish. That is especially true here in Saint Paul.
Our police and fire departments are world class, and our parks and libraries consistently win national acclaim. Our education initiatives are providing all of the children in our community the opportunity to succeed in life. Through our mortgage foreclosure prevention assistance, thousands of families have been aided in their struggle to stay in their homes. These services have added up to a smart, strong, safe community.
But now, in the most challenging economic environment most of us have ever experienced, the question has become: Do we have the resources necessary to continue the great work of this city? On Tuesday, the governor proposed a budget that makes deep cuts to state aid to cities throughout Minnesota. While most know that program by its official title, Local Government Aid, in Saint Paul we know it as cops, firefighters, parks and libraries.As the federal government is being asked to make massive investments to steady the national economy, it may be easy to lose sight of the fact that city governments have to balance their budgets. We can’t shift costs onto lower levels of government. We can’t spend what we don’t have. And we can’t offer services we can’t pay for.
I fundamentally believe that the governor’s cost-cutting proposal takes Minnesota in a direction that most Minnesotans don’t want to go. As mayor of Saint Paul, I will argue passionately on behalf of our city and on behalf of what I think is a better direction for Minnesota.
But, as the mayor of Saint Paul, I also must accept the potential for such cuts and prepare accordingly.
With the proposed cuts to LGA, the city faces a $44 million deficit in 2010. To illustrate the magnitude of that, we could eliminate all of our libraries, all of our recreation centers and the office of the city attorney, and we still would not come close to closing the budget gap.
This past week, I met with the City Council, our department directors and the unions that represent our employees to brief them on the situation. I asked them to help us find innovative solutions to our challenges and look for ways to change service delivery and save money. I also laid out the principles that will guide the conversation over the coming weeks and months.
- First, we will have an open and honest conversation about the cost of city services: no budget games, no fuzzy math — just an honest assessment of what we do, how much it costs and what we can afford.
- Second, we will minimize layoffs of city employees. I do not believe the economic situation will be improved by more workers losing their jobs. I also believe that city employees will be called upon with greater frequency in these difficult times to provide services. We will, though, seek new and more efficient ways to deliver those services — much as we did in 2007 when we reorganized our Parks and Recreation Department. At that time we ceased programming for eight recreation centers. However, by leveraging community partnerships, we have been able to increase the level of service in the other centers and provide space for partners such as Blackhawks soccer to expand their programming.
- Third, we will bring the community into the conversation to help us shape the changes the city will inevitably undergo. Our best chance at protecting services is to ask users what they need most. We all love Saint Paul. We are all in this together. We need to work together to keep our city moving forward.
Wayne Gretzky once said: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
While it is true that we must deal with the reality of the state of the economy as it is today, for Saint Paul to continue to be great we must always focus our attention on the future. The decisions we make in the coming months will be guided by a long-term and strategic vision for Saint Paul. It is our duty as leaders during these difficult times to preserve the greatness of Saint Paul for generations to come.
Budget & Property Tax Resources: