Officials: Moorhead cannot provide services if budget deadline isn’t metOfficials say the City Council can come to a budget agreement when they meet again, just one day before the Dec. 28 state deadline.
By: By Wendy Reuer, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
MOORHEAD, Minn. — Officials say the City Council can come to a budget agreement when they meet again, just one day before the Dec. 28 state deadline.
If it doesn’t, the city has no ability to pay for its bills, City Manager Michael Redlinger said. That means services couldn’t be provided, even police and fire protection, he said.
“There’s really no provisions for a lights-on bill like Congress can do, or the state legislature has done,” Redlinger said. “We do have to get it done and that will happen, it needs to happen.”
In addition to a final budget, a tax levy must also be approved by the council. However, if it is not, the county auditor can certify the levy for the same amount as 2011. But the city wouldn’t be able to spend the revenue generated by that levy until the council adopts a budget.
“There is no provision in statute or charter to revert to the previous year’s budget, only the statutory language to revert to previous year levy,” Redlinger said.
The Minnesota Department of Revenue must receive the city’s budget by Dec. 28.
State Auditor Rebecca Otto said she is unaware of any city failing to pass a budget in time. She said a city not approving a budget carries no consequences imposed by the state, so any impact would be local.
“I’m very hopeful they are going to get this sorted out, I think they will,” Otto said.
Redlinger said there are no provisions in the charter for how to proceed should the council fail to pass a budget.
“It’s pretty basic, that’s our charge,” he said.
The city manager said no contingency plans have been discussed by staff.
“Not at this time, we’re proceeding as if the council is adopting the budget,” he said.
Mayor Mark Voxland said he remains confident the council will come together to agree Dec. 27.
“I know they will, they’re really close right now,” he said.
On a council meeting on Monday, five of the eight members voted in favor of a final budget raising the tax levy by 6.3 percent — an increase that would mean a property tax increase of about $23 on a home valued at $140,000.
By charter, the city must approve the budget with a supermajority of at least six votes. Voxland said he believes all eight members will attend Dec. 27.
Councilwoman Brenda Elmer has been absent from December meetings while she attends a delegation trip to China.
Redlinger said since the city adopted its 2012 fee schedule Monday, it may be able to hold a special meeting for budget adoption. The city attorney is checking on that, he said on Tuesday afternoon.
Redlinger presented the first budget outline to the City Council in July after the state government shutdown for 20 days when the Legislature failed to agree on a budget for the state.
Since then, Moorhead has had to look at ways to account for a more than $1 million loss of revenue due to cuts to Local Government Aid as well as the elimination of the market value homestead credit.
The council agreed Sept. 12 to a preliminary budget with an 8.3 percent tax levy increase. The council can lower but not raise the initial levy for next year, an increase of about $624,000 to $8.1 million.
Redlinger presented the council a proposed final budget on Nov. 28 that would increase the levy 6.3 percent instead, a savings of
That proposal includes plans to:
* Fill one vacant position in both the police and fire departments with a transfer from the public utility’s electric fund.
* Cut two city staff positions.
* Realign the fire department to save $82,000.
* Eliminate the city’s contributions to five community partnerships.
The community partnership funding and the size of the tax levy increases have been sticking points for council members.
“I’m pretty confident the council sees what it needs to do now and it will get done,” Voxland said.
Wendy Reuer is a reporter
at The Forum of Fargo-
Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.