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Local governments should 'cry foul' over state budget cuts

WILLMAR -- Counties and cities in Minnesota should "cry foul" over Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed budget cuts that were unveiled this week.

Kandiyohi County Chairman Richard Falk said Tuesday the governor is passing most of the state's budget problems onto cities and counties.

"We need to cry foul so the public understands what in the world the governor is proposing," said Falk.

He said it's "business as usual" for state government, but the governor "cut the heck out of everybody else."

"The individuals we serve are the ones that are taking the hit," said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.

Kandiyohi County has already had $668,011 cut from the 2010 local government aid through "unallotment," the executive branch power to reduce expenditures to prevent an anticipated budget deficit.

Under the governor's newest plan, an additional $1.2 million would be taken away from Kandiyohi County this year.

Another $636,363 would be cut in 2011 under the governor's plan and another similar-sized cut would be made in 2012 -- the exact figure wasn't available from the state Web site.

What's worse, said Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl, is "going forward, that government aid doesn't come back."

Kleindl said it appears the $250 million in cuts for 2010, the $450 million in cuts for 2011 and the $449 million in cuts for 2012 the governor is proposing for counties, cities and townships will not be restored.

That means local services will have to be cut "drastically," said Kleindl.

Putting elderly people on a waiting list to be screened for a nursing home, reducing law enforcement and reducing snowplowing may all be considered as ways to reduce the county budget.

"And I get complaints now because we've made cutbacks on snowplowing and sanding," said Kleindl, in an interview.

On top of the reductions in local government aid, human services will be taking a separate hit that will affect county family service departments. It's not known yet how that will be divvied up between the 87 counties.

The additional reductions will be mean more "cuts and squeezes" for the long-term care of the state's most vulnerable residents, said Kandiyohi County Family Services Director Jay Kieft.

Citing a publication from the state Department of Human Services, Kieft said the 2009 legislative session had the goal of reducing "hundreds of millions of dollars from programs serving people who are elderly and people with disabilities."

Kieft said it's difficult to get the message to "people who have skin in the game" that services a family member has received in the past are being reduced or eliminated because of an unsustainable level of expenditures versus revenues.

Kieft said his department will have to "do less with less."

Madsen said the state's position appears to focus on reducing services, cutting people off, and lowering standards for safety nets but includes "nothing about outcomes."

Kleindl said the county has already implemented layoffs and furloughs, delayed buying equipment and kept the 2010 budget to a bare minimum. Absorbing even more cuts this year will not be easy.

Commissioner Richard Larson said the county has no choice but to "really roll up the sleeves and go to work on this." He said decisions will be made and "people won't like it."

Kleindl said people love Minnesota because "we always care of the people who can't care for themselves." He said there's a "thin line" before that goes away.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750