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League of Minnesota Cities: Minnesotans say city services are vital and should be funded

BEMIDJI - The League of Minnesota Cities has wrapped up its conversations with 12 Minnesota cities, and one common theme has risen: City services are important to all citizens, and they need to be funded.

The LMC started its "Cities, Services, and Funding: Broader Thinking, Better Solutions" initiative because the current system of funding city services is no longer sustainable.

"We cannot simply raise taxes nor simply cut our way out of the problem," LMC public affairs manager Donald Reeder said at the Bemidji summary session Tuesday evening at the Sanford Center. "Both those actions may be part of the solution, but instead, we also need to think about the fundamental shift and how we think about city services."

In its quest to develop better policy solutions for the future of Minnesota cities, the League talked to more than 730 Minnesotans who represented a diverse spread of ages, income levels, ethnicities and political views. Bemidji was selected as one of 12 cities to take part in the process.

The LMC held four conversations with each city to discuss city services, how the services are delivered, funding for the services and the values of the services.

Reeder said the results were aggregated because there was no significant difference one city to the next.

All cities agreed that police, fire and ambulance services were the most relied on, while streets, clean water, parks and library services all were important secondary sources.

Expanded services for senior citizens, including meal delivery, safe housing, transportation and access to nearby medical facilities, were listed as priorities for the future.

Reeder said people were reluctant to identify services to be cut. Instead, they offered ideas to cut costs, including adding volunteers, partnering with other cities and relying on private sectors to provide services. He said people were more concerned with the outcome of the service than how the service got delivered, something City Manager John Chattin agreed with.

"It gets real political, but people don't care if a brown or blue uniform shows up at their door when they call 911, and they don't care if a white or orange truck plows their street," Chattin said.

Reeder and the LMC asked residents if the state should spend money to ensure quality services throughout the state, and 84 percent said yes. Eighty-six percent said that non-residents should pay for city services they use.

In terms of paying for city services through taxes or fees, 34 percent of people preferred taxes, while 18 percent preferred fees.

The LMC also asked if people liked specific local sales taxes to fund things like community centers and other projects. Fifty-two percent of people liked these sales taxes, while only 24 percent of people liked general local sales taxes.

Reeder said the results of the initiative will be shared with city officials and state legislatures.

"We are not under any illusions that this is going to change everything, but we think that this is a step in the right direction," Reeder said. "It is actually hearing from residents rather than assuming we know or the state leaders know what people are thinking and what they need."