For many weeks, cities large and small across the state
have been complaining that any reduction in state aid would visit devastating cuts to budgets already pared "to the bone."
It is interesting to note that the 2009 New Brighton budget was adopted by the council in December 2008, a time when the financial crisis was clearly known to every citizen, including elected oficials. That the city would approve non-essential spending or increase arguably essential spending by large percentages gets to the very heart of the debate. While cities undoubtedly have taken steps to cut back spending, much more remains to be done, primarily for two reasons. First, very few citizens bother to closely examine how their city spends money. When these few are up against public employee unions and other special interests, it is usually the special interests that are more successful in pressuring city councils. http://www.ci.new-brighton.mn.us/vertical/Sit...
Second, Minnesota's generous state aid program, known as "LGA
(Local Government Aid)", decouples spending decisions from taxing decisions. In other words, since cities don't tax for LGA, their decisions to spend LGA often entail far less restraint than would otherwise be present. It's "free" money.
Parks, Recreation, and other funsies:
Of course, the first place to look for money is enterprises that are
non-essential. The primary purpose of city government is to provide police, fire, and infrastructure services (e.g. sewers and streets).
Like some other cities, New Brighton owns and operates a golf course.
Modern human history has amply demonstrated that the private sector can provide golfing opportunities.
On page 52 of the budget, the city declares that Brightwood Hills is an enterprise operation and that "Similar to a private business, the annual profits and losses are the responsibility of the golf course fund and tax dollars are not used to subsidize the service." Yet on page 14 of the budget, there is a transfer out of the general fund in the amount of $390,000 for debt service for the golf course. In fact, the line item is called "Golf - subsidy for debt service."
Page 19 of the budget notes that recreation programs require a 40%
taxpayer subsidy from the taxpayers. While fingerpainting and yoga classes have value, it must be asked why taxpayers should pay property taxes to subsidize someone else's leisure activities.
Cost of subsidy:$274,640.
Family Service Center (FSC).
The FSC is New Brighton's community center. Like recreation programs, the FSC operating budget requires a 40% taxpayer subsidy, according to the 2009 budget narrative. The FSC annually hosts 1,000 birthday parties, 800 business meetings, 185 receptions and social events and over 200 community meetings. First, the private sector offers these services, thereby putting the government in direct competition with taxpaying enterprises. Second, at the minimum, the folks who have meetings and events at the FSC should be required to pay fees sufficient to cover the benefits received. In other words, the taxpayers of New Brighton shouldn't be forced to subsidize someone's business meeting or birthday bash.
Cost of subsidy:$442,520.
Despite the financial crisis, the city adopted the budget that included wage increases, some rather significant. For example, the FSC "regular wages" line item shows a 13.67% increase over 2008. Likewise, the Administration department's "regular wages" line item shows a 6.5% increase over 2008. All told, the city agreed to $254,041 in wage increases for departments that are funded in whole or in part by the general fund.