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Council continues budget talks

Red Wing City Council is looking at $1 million in cuts to balance its 2011 budget.

City officials have several months to get that done, but they said it's going to be a hairy process. Council continued its budget process Thursday during a workshop at City Hall. Council took no action but council members suggested a bevy of possible cuts.

"There are no sacred cows," Council member Dan Bender said.

The exception to that sentiment was that council members generally agreed they should refrain from cutting public safety departments.

Council suggested these cuts:

* selling Mississippi Golf Course.

* no longer maintaining certain parks.

* cutting Public Works staff

* no wage increases for employees

* reducing employee benefits

One area council members agreed they would need to spend money is on infrastructure projects.

Council members repeated comments similar to those made at earlier budget meetings that the city might need to look to borrowing money to pay road projects and improvements to aging infrastructure.

"If we don't do anything now, things aren't going to get any better and we are still going to have to pay these costs," Bender said.

They said borrowing looks attractive because interest rates are low and that contractors are eager for work and willing to bid low on projects.

The loss of state aid dollars has been the major driver in recent years on a budget crunch that's hit city coffers.

Finance Director Marshall Hallock said the trend is nothing new. He said by his calculations, Red Wing's purchasing power has eroded 15 percent since 2002. But he said the trend has accelerated in recent years.

"We can't maintain the status quo," Hallock said. "Or we'll be broke by 2015."

City officials are planning to conduct a resident survey to get feedback on what services would be best to cut. They are also planning to hold a pair of public meetings in August to hear from residents.