Tiny Dayton makes some big cuts

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY
  • Star Tribune
  • October 29, 2011 - 11:26 PM

Longtime Dayton resident Anita Brown knows that services have been cut in her city. But the transition has been so seamless she can't really say what's missing.

"Out here, we don't need a lot," she said from the community of 4,600 that sits between the Crow and Mississippi rivers, 25 miles northwest of Minneapolis. "Our services are pretty minimal out here anyway."

Dayton will now do with less as it deals with the financial crunch that has hit cities across the state. Long a comfortable community, Dayton has reduced its City Hall staff by three positions -- about half the staff, the mayor said -- bringing it to below 1990 levels.

The city eliminated its receptionist and planner positions. The finance director position was replaced by a consultant hired to work one day a week. The city clerk's position is now split between City Hall and the Senior Center, which no longer has a coordinator overseeing its much-reduced activity schedule.

Even the police department is feeling the strain, with the police secretary's hours being reduced from full time to 32 per week. If nobody answers, residents are told to leave a message.

"I don't think we're any different from other cities feeling financial pressure," said Mayor Doug Anderson. "We're trying to stay ahead of the curve."

Anderson, president of Metro Cities and a board member of the League of Minnesota Cities, says many of Dayton's Hennepin County neighbors are also feeling the financial pinch. But Maple Grove, Brooklyn Park, Champlin and Rogers have been benefactors of building booms, Anderson said. Dayton has not.

Being smaller now means being leaner, he said.

Warned about cuts

The staff cuts that became effective Oct. 1 did not come as a surprise. Citizens were warned four months ago that cuts were coming.

They've also seen property values nosedive. Some households have had drops in income, Anderson noted.

"We had to do something," he said. "The tax burden is enough as it is. We couldn't ask people to pay more."

In a memo posted on its Internet page, the city said residents should expect slower service-response times. Anyone needing to conduct business at City Hall is advised to schedule an appointment.

But customers must pick their spots when calling. For instance, on Fridays, City Hall closes at noon. It's also closed from noon to 1 p.m. each day.

Complaints have been minimal, Anderson said.

"In fact, we've heard positive things," Anderson said. "People are concerned."

Steve Bailey, Anderson's neighbor, has lived in Dayton 20 years and has watched neighboring communities grow.

"There's shopping all around us," he said. "But that's a good thing, not a negative.

"To tell the truth, I don't keep up with all the changes going on," he said. "But when you call City Hall, it is hard to get somebody to pick up the phone."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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