BEMIDJI-A new report on year-end finances for 2017 from Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto backs up findings released earlier this year by Bemidji officials.
The Minnesota City Finances Report, compiled to summarize the operations of 846 cities, was released Tuesday, with a breakdown of data from communities large and small. Revenues, expenses, and distribution of dollars were given an analysis, and much of it lined up with earlier findings.
For example, Bemidji's largest expenditure is public safety, including fire department operations, amounting to 42 percent of the city's general fund spending. The next highest is public works and streets, amounting to 17 percent.
Comparatively, according to the state report, the largest expenditures for all cities in Minnesota was infrastructure and public safety in 2017. On average, for large cities, street and highways accounted for 23 percent of expenditures while public safety was 27 percent. For small cities, those with less than 2,500 in population, streets were 25.7 percent of expenditures and public safety was 23 percent.
Over a 10-year trend, the report shows cities taking in revenues derived from property taxes growing 39.7 percent between 2008 and 2017. When adjusted for inflation, revenues from all cities from property taxes increased 18.4 percent.
In Bemidji, the property tax levy has shown a steady increase in the past several years. In 2016, the final tax levy was $4.8 million, in 2018 it was $5.8 million and the approved levy for 2019 is $5.9 million.
In a more focused look at Bemidji's finances, the report included a section dedicated to the total unrestricted fund balances for Minnesota cities. According to the report, the total unrestricted fund balance at the end of 2017 was $12.5 million for Bemidji, an 8.2 percent increase over the 2016 amount of $11.6 million.
"Unrestricted really means that the council can spend those dollars for purposes they deem appropriate," Bemidji Finance Director Ron Eischens said. "We, as a matter of practice, have said those funds are dedicated to cover our cash flow requirements. The council, from a policy perspective, say 'We set aside a bulk of that money for cash flow and emergency purposes.'"
Blackduck had an unrestricted fund balance of $896,913 at the end of 2017, an increase of 13.7 percent over the 2016 amount of $789,179, according to the report.
As a whole, expenditures in all of Minnesota totaled $6.38 billion in 2017, a 1.3 percent increase from 2016. Total revenues for all Minnesota cities, meanwhile, came to $5.54 billion, a 2.1 percent increase from 2016 revenues.
"The annual city finance report provides for transparency of city finances," Otto said in a press release. "The report also provides analysis on long-term financial trends for large and small cities across Minnesota, which may be helpful for policymakers at the capitol."