Burnsville is cutting a program that allows teens a taste of policing. Eagan won't plow city trails nearly as fast. Jordan can't afford to set aside money to replace its jam-packed City Hall. Farmington will push back plans for a full-time fire chief -- and for a car for him to use.
But Elko New Market is signaling its arrival as a genuine -- if distant -- suburb by setting aside money for a youth soccer program for the first time.
Cities south of the river are winding up their budgets and tax rates this month, and with home values stagnant to declining, there's a lot more cutting than adding going on.
Burnsville plans to cut $1 million from its budget, and Eagan will cut half that amount, as both cities try to hold the line on taxes in a down economy. Shakopee's budget will rise by a sliver, but even there the equivalent of nearly five full-time positions has been cut, a big change for a community that for decades has done nothing but expand.
Among the similarities across the southern suburbs:
The housing slowdown is a big influence.
Cities are saving big-time on labor by opting to cut positions or leave vacancies unfilled in departments having to do with building construction. The slowdown itself affects city budgets by dampening the rate of growth in tax base and throttling back on proceeds from development fees.
Parks and other recreational amenities are a frequent target.
Elko New Market, with one of the lowest tax rates among comparably placed fringe communities, did bow to parent demand for soccer. But Farmington expects to lay off a recreation supervisor. And Farmington came close to backing away from its swimming pool, though it opted in the end to channel $75,000 in liquor-store profits to avoid that prospect.
Eagan will stop hiring contractors to plow trails and use city crews instead, meaning streets get cleared first and trails wait, saving $72,000. Lakeville will eliminate the ice rink at Village Creek Park, which hasn't drawn a lot of users anyway. Burnsville will postpone park improvement projects.
Anything that won't be missed by the average citizen seeking services is on the maybe-isn't-a-must list.
Out-of-state conferences are on the cut list for some, including Scott County libraries and Lakeville city officials. Lakeville has canceled its biennial community survey. City Administrator Steve Mielke noted that one of its purposes has been to gauge the need for things and right now "we don't anticipate adding significant services anyhow."
Burnsville is saving $14,000 by scrapping its Police Explorer program, which allows kids aged 14 to 21 to try out law enforcement by volunteering to work traffic control and other duties. An effort is underway to raise private money to keep it going, said city spokesman Jim Skelly.
Some cities are announcing relatively few big changes this month because they took major steps months ago. Prior Lake is a case in point. So is Rosemount.
In early 2008, said Rosemount Mayor Bill Droste, the city decided to restructure its staff. Knowing that a new library and license center would open in February 2009, taking over some services now provided at City Hall, the city held off on hiring for new positions and instead combined some staff functions.
Most cities and Dakota and Scott Counties have held or will hold public hearings this week to get reaction to their budget and tax proposals before finalizing both by mid to late December.
Cities are having to cut in some cases to stay within state-imposed levy limits. But most are also responding to citizen pressure to keep taxes fairly level. Jordan had talked of a 22 percent increase, said Tom Nikunen, finance director, but late in the process the council scaled that back to 13.6 percent by postponing a down payment on a future municipal campus and asking staff to find other cuts.
Many cities agonized for months over the cuts, but many also acknowledge that, with a nosediving economy, it may all just be a prelude to a much more searching hunt for cuts next year. Said Rosemount's Droste:
"We might just have to work harder on this next year."