A vote about paying dues to an association of Minnesota cities split the Brainerd City Council and fostered a larger discussion on government aid.
The Brainerd City Council split 4-2 in a Monday vote to approve paying dues to be part of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Council member Bonnie Cumberland put the request forward. In a memo to the council she said the coalition for the coming year is looking at economic recovery and restoring local government aid from the state. While Brainerd could try to take its position on these issues to St. Paul, Cumberland said reform is more likely when cities with similar concerns are represented by experienced and trained lobbyists. There are 74 cities in the coalition, Cumberland said.
“If we want LGA and economic recovery to be preserved and enhanced, we need to invest dollars to make those changes happen,” Cumberland wrote in her memo, adding 43.4 percent of the city’s budget comes from LGA.
“We need a bigger support group,” Cumberland told fellow council members Monday. “I don’t know how we make up for 43.4 percent of our budget.”
Council member Bob Olson said he didn’t think paying the dues was the best use of city funds as it works to take care of its debts. Expenditures should be based on needs and not on people’s wants, Olson said. The council members can talk to state lawmakers themselves. Olson said he also sees the coalition as a strictly political organization.
“There will probably be enough votes to support it, but again, I think we need to put our priorities where they belong,” Olson said. “I think this issue has come up twice and the council defeated it both times.”
Mayor James Wallin said the elected state representatives have a lot of other issues and the coalition really focuses in on the LGA. The property tax base funds most communities but Wallin said Brainerd has a number of schools, churches and other nonprofits in the mix.
“Our tax base in the city of Brainerd is pretty low,” Wallin said. “... If we did not get LGA, you might as well shut down city hall. You might as well shut down the police department and the fire department.”
Spending money for the coalition for LGA is money well spent, Wallin said, adding the city will always have debts. He compared it to having a new $20,000 car in need of a fan belt. “That is what we are trying to do put a fan belt in a new car to help local government aid to continue to come into our city,” Wallin said.
Council President Mary Koep said the coalition is a partisan group and the council is forbidden to make a direct contribution to a political party.
“We’re supposed to be bipartisan,” Koep said. Koep noted the city of Baxter gets no LGA. Koep and Olson voted against the motion.
Coalition dues for 2012 are $24,164. Cumberland proposed using $3,100 from the Economic Development Authority funds as the city has previously done. In addition, Cumberland proposed moving $15,000 in excess salary escrow funds and $6,064 from the special projects fund, which has a $73,540 surplus in the working funds.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or firstname.lastname@example.org.