The status quo needs to be examined for Rochester’s 2020 city budget.
That was the message sent by Rochester City Council members Wednesday as they reviewed funding for a variety of outside agencies that work with the city.
“Why are we maintaining on all these?” Council Member Michael Wojcik said, looking at the proposed $387.6 million budget. “We have the opportunity to take a fresh look at some of these.”
Rochester City Administrator Steve Rymer proposed funding for the agencies that maintained 2019 funding levels, even when additional funds were requested.
Wojcik suggested some of the funding might no longer be needed, or may need to see a shift.
“I’m struggling with both the funding sources and why we are continuing to do it,” he said.
A proposed $20,000 for Greater Rochester Advocates for Universities and Colleges might no longer be appropriate, he said, stating the initial intent was to attract the University of Minnesota to create a Rochester campus.
“That happened 10 years ago,” he said, questioning why funding is in the 2020 recommended budget.
The organization lists its mission as advocating, promoting and connecting higher education with K-12 educators and business and industry representatives to benefit the Rochester area.
Wojcik also cited a desire to look at a potential transition for RNeighbors, citing Mayor Kim Norton’s proposal to create a city office to work with neighborhoods. Wojcik said he’d like to see if the $113,000 earmarked for RNeighbors could be used more efficiently by combining efforts.
Two other agencies — Rochester Downtown Alliance and the History Center of Olmsted County — were also referenced. He suggested funding the $100,000 for the RDA from lodging taxes and potentially reducing the $30,000 for the history center, since Rochester residents already contribute through county taxes.
He also raised concerns about agencies that occupy city-owned buildings, specifically 125 Live and the Rochester Civic Theatre.
The suggestions met with mixed responses from other council members, but all indicated additional conversations could be held.
Council President Randy Staver, however, said the timing of any changes could be critical.
“Given it’s September and we’re talking about 2020, it could be catastrophic for some of these groups,” he said.
Council Member Nick Campion said the issues raised are likely ripe for discussion.
“There is a bit of momentum on this board, where things that have been funded become funded again at about the same level,” he said.
The council created an Outside Agency Oversight Committee last year to discuss contributions to organizations after the Civic Theatre and Rochester Art Center sought added support following decreased traffic as the Mayo Civic Center was being renovated. The committee has not met this year.
Rochester City Administrator Steve Rymer said the policy discussions being sought by council members could happen before the final budget is approved on Nov. 4.
“We have not made any judgements on our own,” he said, noting the recommendations were based on council approvals from last year.
Rymer said staff will prepare added information regarding the outside agency requests for Monday’s work session, when budget discussions are expected to continue.