|As Budgets Tighten, Some Local Governments Get Creative
In the current economic climate, cities and counties across Minnesota are tightening their belts when it comes to developing their annual budgets, attempting to eliminate excess spending and waste. While most are doing this by making cuts to various services, it is important to recognize those that are taking proactive steps to find alternative ways to save tax dollars.
The cities represented by the North Metro Mayors Association recently entered into a collective purchasing agreement, through which they intend to use their increased purchasing power to reduce rates on basic city supplies and services. Cities have found a wide range of prices for identical supplies (for example, chlorine bleach ranges from $1.99 to $3.99 per gallon), so the lower rates afforded by consolidation stand to make a serious positive impact on the budgets of the cities involved. As one participant observed, “When you’re dealing with volumes, things like road salt, a savings of 2 to 4 percent or more turns into real dollars.”
In a similar move to streamline operations and share services, 37 Minnesota counties have now taken steps to consolidate their 911 emergency dispatch centers. Though public safety experts estimate that Minnesota requires just 20 or so dispatch centers statewide, there are currently 110 in operation. According to Big Stone County Sheriff John Haukos, “It’s not the technical hurdles; it’s the hurdles we’ve created for ourselves, those invisible county lines.” Big Stone County recently closed its 911 call center in Ortonville and outsourced those essential services to Kandiyohi County’s center in Willmar, saving $50,000 in 2009. Authorities anticipate future annual savings of approximately $100,000. In addition to Big Stone and Kandiyohi Counties, Dakota County has merged six 911 call centers into one, Ramsey County has combined four center into one, and Washington county has combined two centers, to name a few. The money saved has allowed some counties opportunities previously outside the scope of their budget, such as important equipment upgrades.
And finally, while cross-jurisdictional cooperation is helping many cities and counties combat budget shortfalls, internal consolidation is another effective step that several are exploring. Crow Wing County Commissioners recently voted to eliminate the county treasurer office and integrate its services into the office of the county auditor. This move stands to save Crow Wing County up to $150,000, and make it the 62nd of Minnesota’s 87 counties to consolidate the two offices into one.
With the state facing a projected shortfall of more than $5 billion in the upcoming biennium, let’s hope more local governments follow the lead of these cities and counties.
FFM in the News
Investor’s Business Daily featured FFM’s investigation of Cathy Zoi, President Obama’s top official for energy efficiency and renewable energy, in an editorial this morning.
Ed Morrissey at Hot Air also has a follow-up report on FFM’s investigation of Cathy Zoi. Look for more on this story in the coming days.
FFM worked with KSTP-TV on an investigative news story exposing how the state spends tens of millions every year to rent prime office space. Space, in many cases, it does not need. The story aired on Tuesday night. Last night, KSTP followed up with details on how the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency wastes money by using prime office space as storage space. KSTP used FFM’s own investigative video for the story.
Finally, the Duluth News Tribune published an opinion piece by FFM CEO Annette Meeks calling for teacher tenure reform.
As you may have noticed in previous FFM Bulletins, one of the Freedom Foundation’s top priorities is to train citizens from around the state to monitor their local governments and hold their elected officials accountable. This program has yielded incredible results. Recently, as the result of one local watchdog’s work, the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently ruled that “school districts and school boards are required to comply with state campaign laws when promoting or defeating a ballot question.” This is just one of many local watchdog success stories.
FFM is currently planning a late spring/early summer training session as well as subsequent sessions later this year, including a possible session in Greater Minnesota. If you’re interested in more information, or would like to get on the waiting list, please firstname.lastname@example.org
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