Moorhead moves on a budgetThere is a difference between putting government on a diet and starving it. Moorhead City Council members seem to grasp the difference, and this week acted in the best interests of the city’s residents, despite constrictions imposed on cities by the Legislature.
By: The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, The Jamestown Sun
There is a difference between putting government on a diet and starving it. Moorhead City Council members seem to grasp the difference, and this week acted in the best interests of the city’s residents, despite constrictions imposed on cities by the Legislature.
The council on Monday agreed to a budget deal that will raise taxes 6.3 percent but maintain most essential spending on city responsibilities by dipping into reserves. It’s not an ideal solution to the city’s budget problems because reserves affect both the city’s credit-worthiness and its ability to respond to emergencies. But in light of the tax burden from the state to localities that has been under way for several years, Moorhead and other cities had no choice.
Oh, but the city does have choices, say defenders of the Legislature’s actions. True enough. But the choices often amount to a rock or a hard place. For Moorhead and other cities facing similar situations, taxes will go up (that shift again) and services — some seen as essential — will be modified. Moorhead appears to have cobbled together a formula that will minimize service disruption or reduction for the next budget cycle. But the outlook for city budgets, as determined by legislative mandate, is not good.
It’s a clash of philosophies. On one side is the tradition once so valued in Minnesota that cities, no matter their size or location in the state, should offer residents a range of services and amenities that make those places livable and attractive. On the other side is the “starve the beast” attitude of many in the Legislature and elsewhere – the beast being government at all levels. If the latter means quality of life suffers in cities that don’t have the tax bases of affluent metro suburbs, so be it, as long as government gets smaller. It’s a simplistic, callous ideology. It fails to consider population growth, rising costs for all basic municipal services (the stuff they must purchase from the private sector, for example), and the imperative that a city without amenities above and beyond basic services will not attract new residents or business investors.
Moorhead is moving to approve a budget that puts city government on a diet but does not starve it. It appears to be a good compromise. But make no mistake about it: Dipping into reserves and raising property taxes in order to maintain city services are choices forced by shortsighted legislative dogma.