The time has come for a complete rethinking of the services cities provide and how to pay for them.  We need to figure out a new way forward for Minnesota cities and the people we serve. Cities that rely on local government aid and other state programs have experienced dramatic cuts since 2003.  With a $6 billion deficit looming, the prospect of restoring that finding looks grim.  All cities are facing pressure for expanded services and lower taxes.  Population trends such as baby boomer generation are raising expectations of many services.  At the same time city councils are reluctant to raise property taxes or fees because they know Minnesotans are dealing with a tough economy and are increasingly on fixed incomes.


We have been working with the same approach to city services and finding for more than 40 years.  What once worked well for the people of Minnesota is no longer working.  In response to the situation, the League of Minnesota Cities commissioned the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota to do a projection of what the future would look like if no changes were made.  Projections show that cities of all kinds, every size and every region and every level of LGA received will be broke within 5 years—by 2015.  In other words, it won’t matter where the city is, what its population, what its tax base composition is, what its local economy looks like or what its unique mix of revenue source is.  All types of cities will end up in the red if nothing changes.


Raising property tax levies, cutting city services, reducing service levels, and fighting for more funding for LGA and credit from the state is one approach to keep doing what we have been doing since 2003-plus a combination of tightening our belts and becoming more efficient.  Most cities have done all they can.


Unless we find a better way forward, these are our only options and then face the 2015 verdict.  How do we avoid this?  Broader thinking is needed—a broader conversation must begin.  Awareness of the issues must grow.  We need to get Minnesota talking about the funding gaps and the disconnect between the services wanted, the funding required and what people feel is a fair price to pay for them.  Few citizens are fully aware of the gap between money available and money needed.  As a first step to help Minnesotans to become aware, the League has produced a new informative and entertaining video designed to get the attention of those people who may not be aware of city service and funding issues and to get them thinking and talking.  The style of this video is designed to get attention and to be unusual enough to prompt viewers to watch it again and to forward it to someone else.  The video is not designed to start laying out possible solutions.  It purposely did not direct people to take a particular action or give them possible answers to accept or reject.  Some people will be frustrated by the fact that no particular solutions are given.  Viewers are to realize that the solutions aren’t obvious.  It will take more than the usual people immersed in public policy thinking and talking about city services and funding to preserve the things we know and love about our community to be there in the years to come.  Yet to create a future that’s as bold and bright as what we’ve enjoyed, it’s going to take new thinking— thinking that’s “outside the ox”. The future of city funding is at hand.   

It’s your future-- be part of creating “outside the ox” solutions by sharing your comments at


A second video will be released about the time of the State Fair.  The purpose will be the same --to get Minnesotans in all walks of life and regions of the state thinking and talking about what the future holds for their communities.  Also planned are community conversations to be held throughout Minnesota over the course of 2010 and 2011.  At the Leagues’ annual conference city officials were asked to share their thoughts on how to best engage themselves and citizens in conversations about city services and funding. Each member of council, chief appointed officials, and city staff and any residents who view the presentation to take three actions:


View the 3 minute video.  Share that link with friends, family, neighbors, legislators, constituents by email, city website, city newsletters, facebook, or twitter.  Post your comments and share your thoughts on cities, services and funding.


Information for this article was taken from “Cities, Services, and Funding” prepared by the League of Minnesota Cities and the website


Janette Wertish, Mayor