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Willmar Council debates possible cuts to '09 budget amid fears of reductions in Local Government Aid

WILLMAR -- Willmar City Council members continue to discuss the possibility of trimming the 2009 city budget if the Legislature enacts reductions this year in Local Government Aid.

During a work session Monday evening, council members looked at a list of possible cuts ranging from more than $500,000 to nearly a million dollars in the $20.8 million budget.

But there's no urgency to approve any cuts yet because city officials are waiting for the Legislature to wrestle with the state's budget and deficit problem, says City Administrator Michael Schmit.

"We may not know until this summer the extent of our cuts, but we're planning accordingly,'' Schmit said. "We're holding back on purchases of major equipment and other capital projects that aren't on this list until we get a better idea.''

It was the council's second work session called to discuss possible budget cuts. The first session was Jan. 20. No action was taken on any of the cuts.

Denis Anderson, chairman of the council's Finance Committee, said council members had a good discussion on how the budget might be cut.

"I think we've got a good starting point. There's going to be some pain everywhere and I think that's kind of what the council wants is a shared pain where everybody gets cut to some extent,'' he said. "We aren't going to lose anything of substance entirely.''

Schmit said Willmar's 2009 LGA would be cut by $410,000 under Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed budget. Schmit said he tried to develop a series of recommendations that would come up with a number in the half-a-million-dollar range.

But the LGA cut may be larger, Schmit said, because everyone is talking about the state deficit increasing between now and June 30, when the state's fiscal year ends.

"I targeted a series of recommendations for the council in three phases, all 2009 cuts, if need be,'' Schmit said.

The first phase of $501,477 includes delaying the purchase of a second street sweeper estimated at $170,000, and cutting a $179,478 railroad quiet zone project railroad on 10th Street Southwest.

Also on the list were reductions at City Hall, engineering, City Auditorium and Leisure Services (tennis courts, Rice wading pool, fencing and equipment); 10 percent across-the-board cuts to the Design Center, Meals on Wheels, Humane Society, Baseball Boosters, Child Guide and marketing; and contribution cuts to Citizens Energy Plan and foundations.

If a second phase of cuts is needed, Schmit suggested redirecting $200,000 set aside for street improvements in the $3.5 million levy to the general fund, and he suggested eliminating $15,000 for downtown outdoor furniture and $15,000 for new holiday decorations, all totaling $230,000.

If a third phase of cuts is needed, Schmit recommended taking $120,000 from reserves and cutting cultural diversity programs, operations and capital outlay, all totaling $234,000.

Schmit said LGA cuts are projected to be in the $850,000 range in 2010.