Funding would go up in Dayton's proposal, then down the next year.
Crookston City Council members were no doubt thrilled to hear Gov. Mark Dayton, during a visit to East Grand Forks this week, tell city leaders there that as long as he's governor, Minnesota cities who rely on Local Government Aid in order to provide necessary services to their citizens will not see their LGA cut.
But that doesn't change the fact that Crookston council member Keith Mykleseth, during a visit to a Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities event last week in St. Paul, saw the details of Dayton's budget proposal, and it includes some wide variations in the level of LGA funding that would come to Crookston, if Dayton's plan ever becomes reality.
Crookston, which is receiving around $3 million in LGA this year, more than any other similar city in the region – mostly because of the lack of property tax revenue the city generates – would receive an LGA bump of just over $300,000 next year as part of Dayton's plan, Mykleseth told council members this week. But the year after, according to the information provided to Mykleseth by the CGMC, Crookston's LGA level would drop around $400,000. That's a net loss of around $100,000 over two years, for those scoring at home.
Dayton spoke to the CGMC over lunch, Mykleseth said, and told the group that his proposal is only an initial offering and that he's open to alternate ideas. The CGMC, Mykleseth said, "isn't quite on board with it," mostly because it creates "winners and losers" among greater Minnesota cities when it comes to LGA funding. A little more than half of CGMC member cities would see an overall LGA increase, a little less than half would see a decrease, and a handful in the middle would see basically the same LGA funding levels, Mykleseth said.
Council member Wayne Melbye said he wouldn't mind being among the cities in the middle, with relatively stable funding. "Stability is the most important, even if it's a little less," he said. "At least we'd know what's there and what's coming. There's no stability if you're up $300,000 one year and down $400,000 the next. It's like they make you feel good today and then take it all away from you."
If Crookston gets $300,000 more next year, Melbye continued, but knows that the following year will see a $400,000 drop, it's not like the council is going to do anything meaningful with the $300,000 LGA increase. "You're not going to hire a new police officer or make any other investments if you know it's going to be gone and then some the next year," he said.
Mykleseth said he's afraid the differing LGA funding levels for CGMC member cities might be part of a "divide and conquer" approach. With rural Minnesota fighting more than ever to maintain influence in the legislature, "something like this splits us up and gets us fighting each other instead of fighting for things that help us all," he said.
But, that said, Mykleseth said he's encouraged by Dayton's willingness to listen to new ideas, and he said "it's not the first rodeo" for area legislators in St. Paul.
"They're looking out for us," he said. "They know our situation."