I don’t know anyone who hasn’t suffered personally or financially as we ride out the current recession. We are living in unsettled financial times where many of us are just pleased to keep the jobs we enjoy. Yet everyone I talk with continues to tighten his or her personal financial belt another notch – no one seems to know what dismal economic news tomorrow will bring. And that proverbial belt-tightening is occurring in local governments, too. Frankly, it’s been truly inspiring to see the leadership that many city officials are providing.
For example, elected officials in Hutchinson adopted a city-wide wage freeze. City leaders expect to reap nearly $400,000 in savings – an amount that will nearly equal most of the $415,000 that the city expects to lose in Local Government Aid (LGA). Reportedly, they choose this route rather than further reductions in their city workforce.
The Cottage Grove City Council reduced their city budget by nearly $1 million – that sounds like a big cut for such a small community.
The St. Cloud School Board reduced their own pay by 10 percent for 2009. It won’t reap significant savings for the district but it sends an important message about their willingness to be part of the solution.
Austin, Minnesota City Administrator declined even a modest 3-percent pay raise this year. Furthermore, the city’s mayor and city council have set a bold pattern of holding themselves accountable – their salaries haven’t risen since 2001.
And closer to home, it was encouraging to read that the new chairman of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners is leading a bi-partisan effort to forgo a scheduled pay increase–even after they learned that a state statute prevents them from doing so.
I was surprised to read today in the Star Tribune that state law prohibits city councils and the Hennepin County Board from making these proposed salary changes. In order to bypass this obsolete law, members of the Hennepin County Board must “voluntarily return[ing] the raises” that were scheduled to kick in this year.
Hennepin County Chair Opat hit the nail on the head when he explained to the newspaper how the council hopes to evade the law: “I think generally people will appreciate that we understand the situation here, and we try to comply with the letter of the statute but there are some extraordinary circumstances.”
Extraordinary circumstances, indeed.
Thank you to all of these elected officials for understanding the precarious times we live in and making difficult, often very personal decisions, to cut spending. They truly understand that we’re all in this together.
That’s true leadership.