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The Times
  • City officials will look to whittle down budget

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  • LITTLE FALLS — Little Falls city officials will continue to explore ways to whittle down their budget in an effort to lessen their proposed tax increase of 4.35 percent.
    That was the message shared by First Ward Alderman Jeffrey Gressler, a member of the Common Council’s Finance Committee, and others during Tuesday evening’s public hearing on the $6,255,384 budget unveiled to the public last week.
    “When we talk savings we are talking cuts, cuts to services that have been in place for generations,” said Gressler.
    He added since the start the budget talks the finance committee has cut some $300,000 out of the budget, lowering the tax increase from its starting point of 12.8 percent.
    “If there was a magic 1.67 percent lever or button we would have pulled that lever or pushed that button by now. To get the budget down from 12.8 percent to 6.8 percent we cut fat. To get it down from 6.8 percent to 4.35 percent we cut into muscle. To go any lower, we will have to start sacrifice,” said Gressler.
    The Common Council voted 6-2 last week to approve a local law to override the state-imposed property tax cap that was reduced from 2 percent to 1.66 percent in 2014.
    The budget that is being debated by the council includes a property tax increase of $4.13 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The budget does not include any new equipment or vehicle purchases, but it does include a 1.5 percent increase in employee salaries.
    Resident David Van Meter urged the council to “turn over every stone” to find savings.
    “We have a problem. Yes the government in Little Falls is good and yes that government provides us with a lot of useful services, but with 59 residents for every city worker I’m not sure we can continue on this way,” he said, adding the per capita debt for every man, woman and child in Little Falls is $2,200. “We need to think about the long haul.”
    Van Meter also said the city cannot continue to increase taxes while its assessed valuation continues to decrease. “It’s not sustainable. We need to look for savings,” he said.
    While it is too late for the 2014 budget, resident Rob Richard called on the Common Council and mayor to solicit public input as they formulate future city budgets.
    This, he said, would not only make Little Falls city government more transparent, but would provide a vehicle for the city to tap into the collective knowledge of its residents.
    City Treasurer David Petkovsek said the city has plans to do that, with the mayor, council members and himself considering mailing a 13- to 20-question questionnaire to 25 residents each. He said the answers provided by residents would make their jobs “easier.”
    “The residents would tell us what’s important to them and we would use that information to formulate the budget,” he said. “It would give us insight on what the public wants.”
    Page 2 of 2 - As for the 2014 budget, Petkovsek said he doesn’t believe it contains any “cushion.”
    “It’s a barebones budget. There is nowhere else to cut but personal services,” he said.
    “We still have a week before the Common Council votes on the budget, and I’m sure the finance committee will meet to see if they can get the increase closer to the 1.66 percent,” said Mayor Robert Peters. “What I want residents to be aware of is that if we begin to cut personal services, city services will be interrupted. Personally, I do not want the fire department to be reduced to two-man shifts. I do not want the police department to be reduced to one officer on duty at night. I don’t want to be responsible for a life should something tragic happen, but these are the types of cuts we are talking about.”
    “It’s an $80,000 challenge to get under the cap,” said Second Ward Alderman David Burleson. “There’s still a week to go and I’m confident we can do it.”
    The Common Council will vote to adopt the budget at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 15.

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