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Fewer people could mean more cash

HOUSTON — Small towns are constantly trying to attract more residents but by a strange twist of bureaucratic fate, Houston might get $139,000 from the state because it may have lost 14 theoretical residents.

"Normally, you do not want your population to drop, but this is one of those situations where it's a saving grace," said Houston Mayor Connie Edwards.

And it's not that it actually lost residents. The drop from 1,003 to 989 is based on a state demographer's estimate, she said. "It's not that anyone went anywhere," she said. The true population won't be known until the 2010 census is done, she said.

The whole affair of the 14 people goes back a few years and has to do with unallotments to local government aid, she said.

A few years ago, when the population was listed as 1,003, Houston was included in the long list of cities losing money as the state tried to balance its books. But Gov. Tim Pawlenty said any city with fewer than 1,000 would be exempt, Edwards said.


In 2008, the town lost $29,000 and last year, lost $22,000 even though the demographer said the population was 989, he said. This year, it could lose $55,000 now and maybe another $62,000 under Pawlenty's proposal. That's a total of $139,000 or almost $10,000 per person theoretically lost.

Now, the city, with help of Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona and Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, is trying to correct things, Edwards said. In a perfect world, it would not only not lose the $117,000 this year but get back the other $22,000, she said.

She and another city official testified in favor of the bill Thursday and believe they got a good hearing, she said. "Amazing, it was amazing," she said. "They were very receptive to what we had to say."

With all the cuts, it has slashed the budget. For example, the head of the maintenance department has retired and won't be replaced; the department will drop from three to two people. When it snows, they limp along with older graders and do less plowing. The entire city staff didn't get raises, Edwards said.

If it gets $139,000, it won't go to a new truck but back into the general fund, Edwards said.

Auditors say the city should have 30 percent to 40 percent of its budget in reserve, she said. Houston had been up to 44 percent, but that has dropped to 16 percent, she said.

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