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Ropes speaks and listens in Chatfield

Fri, Jun 26th, 2009
Posted in Government

State Senator Sharon Erickson-Ropes-DFL continued a trip around her district addressing the Chatfield City Council at their June 22 meeting. She stressed that we all need to get through this together in part by keeping in touch as much as possible.

City Clerk Joel Young explained the 2009 unallotment reduced their Local Government Aid (LGA) by $55,000 and he is expecting an additional $85,000 cut in LGA for 2010 bringing the total loss of revenue for the city to $140,000 for 2010. About $90,000 will be made up with bond refinancing and cutting some seasonal staff. The city needs to find additional reductions of about $50,000.

Ropes said she recognized how lean the city is running. She went on to explain that the state legislature had agreed with the governor on how to reduce the $6.4 billion deficit by $4 billion. The remaining $2 billion was the problem with the legislature voting to raise taxes on people with top level incomes by 3% and the addition of a liquor tax. She said two-thirds of the extra revenue would have come from multimillionaires out of their personal income. The liquor tax would have amounted to 2 cents on a beer and 3 cents on a mixed drink.

Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed the bill and has chosen to decide on how to balance the last $2 billion himself. Ropes said this is the first time in the state's history that a governor has used the unallotment authority to set the budget. She commented the unallotment process used by the governor last December to cover a shortfall was the proper use of the authority. Ropes added that there are rumors of some organizations considering filing suit insisting the unallotment process he is pursuing is unconstitutional.

Ropes asked about the Potter Auditorium. She specified there are funds available because of the constitutional amendment passed in last November's election for the arts. Young said the school district can't afford to pay for a building standing vacant, but the heritage of those buildings is being explored.

Councilor Ken Jacobson asked about next year. Ropes indicated even if the economy picked up powerfully, there is likely to be at least eighteen to twenty-four months before local communities will feel the benefit. Therefore, they will be looking at cuts for the next two years. She wants everyone to look at this realistically so they aren't caught unaware. She added this $6.4 billion deficit is the largest financial crisis the state has ever been faced with.

Mayor Les Knutson asked if there are any changes being made on how business is run, citing the mandates passed down by the state. Ropes said she was a former school board chairperson and understood the difficulties with mandates. She commented many mandate reductions were passed by the legislature last year making it more flexible for cities. Ropes made it clear she would listen to any suggestions for further reform.

Ropes said there was a fundamental difference of opinion between the governor's plan to deal with the deficit and the DFL-led legislature's plan which would raise new revenue as part of the mix. She stated the Senate wanted to use the pay-as-you-go method. The governor wanted, for example, to borrow against tobacco bonds. She remarked, "It's like putting your groceries on your home mortgage bill." Borrowing is just passing the debt on down the line.

Jacobson worried cities will have to raise property taxes to fill some of the loss of state aid. Ropes made it clear the senate's view is that the fairest and easiest way to pay taxes is with income taxes on a sliding scale. Property taxes go up for people whose income does not, for example, retired people.

Ropes concluded saying she tries to serve in as nonpartisan way as possible, adding, she has been married to a Republican for 30 years,

Other Business In Brief

• A Public Hearing was held on the declaration that a property at 709 Grand Street SE is a public nuisance due to excessively long grass. Young said this year there have been more complaints of long grass than normal, but all but one have been brought into compliance. There was no comment by the public. The council approved a motion stating if the property is not brought into compliance by June 25, the grass will be cut with all costs being assessed to the property.

• Tony Lammers, Superintendent of City Services, noticed two bids to repair two catch basins at the intersection of Hwy 52 and Division Street, NE. The low bid of $4,300 by Griffin Construction was approved.

• Councilor Josh Thompson explained there have been complaints of owners not cleaning up after their pets in public areas and asked that owners take care to do that.

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