They know how critical program is to the budget

    The Crookston City Council when they next meet on Dec. 28 is poised to approve a resolution showing their support for the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities’ push in 2016 for the Minnesota Legislature to boost Local Government Aid funding by $45.5 million.

    But, beyond passing what is largely a symbolic resolution, council members and city officials plan to be active and vocal when legislators next spring take up the often-contentious debate in St. Paul about not just LGA funding levels specifically, but LGA’s funding formula, and, really, the fate of the entire program.

    “This is the single most important issue for us right now, and with a state budget surplus, this is the time that this could happen,” City Administrator Shannon Stassen said of the CGMC’s request for a $45.5 million increase in 2016, which would return LGA funding levels to cities across the state to their 2002 levels, before the program took a big funding hit.

    Crookston in 2015 is receiving approximately $3.5 million in LGA. Considered a particularly revenue-challenged city in Minnesota when it comes to the amount of property tax revenue it generates each year, Crookston relies on LGA more than most cities, and receives significantly more than cities like East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls.

    That’s why LGA funding levels and the importance of the program’s survival can’t be overstated, Stassen said. “Other cities will say (LGA) is important to them, and I’m sure it is,” Stassen said. “But as (the legislature) looks at ways to deconstruct it, it does put the entire program at risk in the future. Messing with things like the formula could really hurt us in the future.”

    LGA will be likely be a hot topic when the local city council sits down for an evening of networking and policy discussions with the city councils from East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls in January. In addition, Crookston council members suggested that legislators like District 1B State Rep. Deb Kiel (R-Crookston) and District 2 State Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook), chair of the Senate Tax Committee, be invited to Crookston to hear the city’s case for continued LGA funding.

    In addition, once the debate starts to heat up after the 2016 legislative session convenes in March, Crookston council members said it would be wise for some or all of them to travel to the State Capitol in St. Paul to meet face-to-face with key decision-makers. Stassen said he’s already planning to head down, and he welcomed anyone to accompany him.

    “It just seems like when someone calls you for a donation, it’s a lot easier to say no over the phone, isn’t it?” At Large Council Member Wayne Melbye said. “I think we need to be there.”

    Ward 1 Council Member Tom Jorgens said the biggest challenge will be posed by legislators from the Twin Cities suburbs and growing outer loop of exurbs that have lots of property wealth and don’t really need LGA funding, so, therefore, they don’t think it’s all that necessary.

    “That’s a growing part of the legislature, and they are not big fans of LGA,” Jorgens said. “They like to put pressure on the outstate (legislators).”