Bulletin Editorial: Newport plan a good startNewport deserves praise for taking a creative approach to a perennial budget problem.
Political fights and budget battles at the Minnesota Capitol leave local governments wondering each year whether they will receive the level of state funding they are projected to collect. That, in turn, makes managing a city or county budget a bit of a guessing game, particularly for local governments that rely on state aid to fund a large percentage of their operations. The result, some local officials say, has been a growing reliance on property tax revenue when state aid comes up short.
Newport is among cities that have grappled with the state aid dilemma, but it is considering a different solution: ridding itself of any reliance on state aid by 2014.
It is a bold approach because state funds from Local Government Aid and a property tax program comprise 27 percent of the city budget. Newport has a $2.5 million annual budget and 19 employees – including public works and public safety staff.
Newport deserves praise for taking a creative approach to a perennial budget problem. To trim city costs in future years, the city may offer an early retirement package to up to two employees. The proposed package seems a fair compensation for employees’ service to the city. The offer would include up to two years of health insurance coverage, a bonus and a payout of accumulated sick hours. It could save up to $200,000 over two years.
The private and public sectors have relied on early retirement packages as an alternative to layoffs, and that appears to be Newport’s intention. That could be good for the city, its employees and its taxpayers.
It also was welcome news recently when Newport officials said they might merge the city’s two election polling places into one. It would reduce confusion for voters who may wonder which polling place they are assigned, and could save costs. The city’s elections budget is $7,300, so eliminating one of two precincts alone will not have a dramatic effect on the city budget, but every bit helps with the city’s ambitious plan. And there is little downside to reducing polling places; the ballot is what matters, not where it is cast.
These two proposals show that Newport is serious about finding ways to provide city services without relying on state assistance. They are good early steps in that direction.