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Reader feedback: Has Legislature put cities in a bind?

Each week we select a news story, Letter to the Editor, column or editorial that's generated a lot of feedback at PostBulletin.com and reprint some of those comments on this page.

This week's topic is Thursday's guest column by Michael Wojcik, a Rochester City Council member who contends that since 2003, the city's per capita spending has decreased 17 percent, yet because of repeated cuts in Local Government Aid, the city has been forced to raise property taxes. He argues that state tax cuts between 1998 and 2003 have put the state and its cities in financial distress, and concludes that, "Those tax cuts did not make Minnesota better, and we know that we prospered under previous rates."

Below are some of the comments we received.

"So in Mike's eyes, if we spend $100 for one person, we should spend $1,000 for ten. Like all good little liberals, I guess he never heard of the phrase 'economies of scale.'"

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"That's right —  attack the messenger, not his message. You are the reason members of the city council (and county board) do not run with political party affiliations."

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"Mike makes some valid points. What makes Mike more valuable is he is in a position to help make these changes. Here's hoping he does."

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"Let's say there is a population of 100 and your police force costs you $100. That is per capita spending of $1. Now increase the population to 110 with no additional police — that is a decrease in per capita spending of roughly 10 percent. Now do you see the problem with his numbers?"

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"Thanks for the info, Mike. It's sad about the property tax increases. I know a number of people looking to move out of the city because of the taxes. Oh well. We are in a depression and there is just not enough money to go around."

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"Though I don’t always agree with him (for instance, in this case where I have long held that we should forgo local aid altogether because we have a sales tax), I must commend Michael Wojcik. He communicates well with fans and foes alike, is well-informed, and is consistently one of the most engaged and thoughtful members of the council."

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"Adding 10 percent population does not necessarily mean that you add police, but if you want to keep the same level of service, you do. Let's look at plowing snow. If you have 10 staff plowing 1,000 miles of road and you add 100 miles, you have a choice — keep the plowing time the same and add staff, or increase time and make people unhappy by not adding staff. Actually, increases in population or road mileage or whatever can work the other way. If you add snow-plowing miles that would support only half an employee, but you have to add a full employee because you cannot use part-time staff, then you end up with an inefficiency of scale."

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"Once in awhile, Wojcik talks before he thinks. But overall, I like that he speaks his mind and doesn't back away from controversy."

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"Although I'm not sure Mr. Wojcik would concur, I think his arguments make a strong case that we should continue down a path of more local funding/spending for local projects, because it diminishes concerns that money sent up to St. Paul will not return at an equitable percentage.

I do think it makes it tough for taxpayers to take it seriously that times are tight in Rochester when they see 'free money' thrown around on bus shelters, ground-lit crosswalks and walking bridges to nowhere."

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"Wojcik is asking us to suspend disbelief and to trust 'his' numbers, saying that he has tried to make them as fair as possible. The real question is whose numbers are accurate, as we all know you can manipulate the numbers to achieve any desired outcome. ... At this point, I am not going to trust any politician and their numbers. What I do see is a redundant and bloated government which serves only to feed and grow itself in power and influence."

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"Good piece, Mike! Keep it up!"

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"I went to the Rochester city website. There's budget info from 2005 - 2010.

The numbers Mr. Michael Wojcik is grabbing are cherry-picked and include capitol improvements. ... Wojcik is grabbing the wrong numbers to intentionally make it look like we need more money. Michael Wojcik is not using the correct budget numbers. He should be using the OPERATING budget numbers, not the total budget numbers. ... From the U.S. Census, 2006 population was 97,000. 2010 population was 104,000 or a growth of 7 percent, but the budget grew 28 percent."

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"That $89 million in 2003 would be $106 million in 2011 dollars. If the 2003 number was bigger, then it may have been closer to at least even. Should the city quit paying for the rest of the budget?"

 

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