BAXTER -- As road projects go, Crow Wing Township's plan to upgrade two "cow trails" into serviceable gravel roads is not a big ticket item.
But the township's money problems are indicative of how local governments are scrambling in a changeable fiscal situation.
Scott Pakarinen, Crow Wing Township Board chair, told area legislators of his township's money crunch at Friday's Eggs and Issues forum at Bonanza Restaurant.
He said that since state aid to townships has been cut the township probably will have no choice but to raise property taxes to pay for the $30,000 to $40,000 project.
Central Lakes College President Joe Birmingham asked area lawmakers a question relating to higher education Friday at the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce-sponsored Eggs and Issues forum.
Currently maintained only by the limited traffic that goes over them, the 1-mile Craig Road and 1/4-mile Bain Street are required by law to be upgraded to passable roads.
"It's what's we call a minimum maintenance road," Pakarinen said after the meeting. "We don't plow it in the winter. We don't grade it in the summer."
Up until recent years, the township could count on about $39,000 from Homestead Agriculture Credit Aid for such projects, but that's been discontinued.
Pakarinen chided legislators who agreed to a no-tax pledge and left townships holding the bag for mandated improvements.
"What difference is it if you raise them (taxes) or if you force me to?" he asked.
Pakarinen's dilemma was just one of the stories lawmakers heard at the Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce-sponsored event. Lawmakers who attended the breakfast were Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker; Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley; Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point; and Rep. Dale Walz, R-Brainerd.
Other topics ranged from higher education funding to the possibility of pay freezes for state employees.
"Stop yo-yoing with the (education funding) formula," Crosby-Ironton School District teacher and 2002 state Senate candidate Stan Nagorski advised lawmakers. "We need something that is fixed."
Ruud said there was a philosophical argument that lawmakers should focus on funding the student rather than the institution. Howes said he was on the fence regarding the proposed pay freeze for state employees and teachers.
"If we have a pay freeze it gives us the opportunity not to lay off as many people," he said, noting the rough economic times private firms are experiencing. "We have to do something. It's not good out there."
Koering said he was upset with the lack of progress the Senate has made and wishes he heard more potential solutions and fewer complaints. He criticized plans to cut aid to ethanol plants because many farmers had invested money in those plants based on the state's commitment to back those plants.
"If you have some solutions, bring them forward," he said, adding he wanted to fix the budget deficit without hurting farmers, education or nursing homes.
Pierz School District Superintendent George Weber said his district was operating in a lean fashion and everyone was doing more so cutbacks didn't affect the classroom.
Walz proposed that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other governors pressure the federal government to live up to its commitment to fund 40 percent of special education instead of the 13 to 16 percent funding that has been traditional.
Responding to criticism by St. Joseph's Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Tom Prusak of proposed cuts to medical assistance and other health programs, Walz said he's trying to educate himself on the specifics of the proposed cuts before he makes a final decision.
Ruud said conversations in her town meetings have helped her learn about the Senior Companion and Foster Grandparent programs.
"Up until a week and a half ago I didn't know they existed," she said.
Koering pointed out state government expenditures were still growing by a billion dollars.
"How much can we afford to let it grow?" he asked.
Both Walz and Ruud responded to suggestions that some taxes be raised by stating the governor would veto any such measure and the effort would be wasted.
Brainerd City Administrator Dan Vogt supported the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities' call for a 14 percent cut in Local Government Aid rather than the proposed 30 percent cut. He said the ability of a city such as Brainerd to raise taxes is considerably less than the ability of a Twin Cities suburb.
Walz praised Pawlenty's proposed tax-free zones but chamber Executive Director Lisa Paxton said some business people feared they would hurt existing businesses, which were already trying to expand without government aid.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.