New London seeks input on drastic cuts to budget
NEW LONDON -- Before the city of New London starts hacking away at its proposed 2010 budget, the council wants to know what its residents are "willing to live without."
Is reducing or eliminating its police contract OK? How about doing the same to its community education contribution or its senior transportation program with Kandiyohi Area Transit?
How about eliminating spring and fall street sweeping or increasing the amount of required snowfall before streets are plowed in the winter?
All those items, and many more, are potential line-item reductions the council will consider as it gets a jump start on preparing one of its most challenging budgets.
"It's scary things we're looking at," said City Administrator Trudie Guptill.
"We are seriously discussing totally eliminating police patrol. It's getting that desperate," she said. "We're not trying to freak people out. It's reality."
The council is begging for community input and has set a community meeting for 5:30 p.m. June 17 at the Fire Hall.
"We're trying to get people to come to look at the line items to say what they can live without," said Guptill.
Typically, New London residents don't attend their City Council meetings and provide very little input before decisions are made.
"We don't know what our citizens want because we never get any input," she said.
These budget decisions are too big for the council to make them alone, said Guptill, who's hoping there will be standing room only at the meeting.
"We'll talk to them for four hours if that's what it takes. We really want their input," she said.
Of New London's $585,000 budget for 2009, 65 percent comes from local Government Aid.
The city's LGA was cut by $24,000 in 2008 and was cut nearly $34,000 in 2009. Another $34,000 could be cut in 2010 under Gov. Tim Pawlenty's plan.
"We're between a rock and a hard place," Guptill said. "It's a scary time for all rural cities."
Without deep budget cuts, Guptill said the city would have to increase its tax rate 8.5 percent next year. That would result in a 45 percent increase in its tax levy. Obviously, that's not going to happen.
On top of that, Guptill said the city has about $100,000 in delayed capital improvement projects.
Capital improvements have been the victim of cuts in recent years, in part to make up for LGA reductions. As a result, she said, the roof on the City Hall that should've been replaced in 2002 is deteriorating even more, the old windows in the community center are leaking warm air in the winter and a shelter at the swimming beach is rotting.
If the repair and replacement of city property isn't put on a schedule and budgeted for, everything will "fall apart at the same time," she said. "If you continue to delay, it'll only get worse."
Part of the proposed 2010 budget includes financial commitments for capital improvements. The council wants to know how important those improvements are to the public.