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45 job layoffs possible in city

As Minnesota leaders begin to hash out a budget compromise, Moorhead officials know any budget will mean several million dollars in cuts for the city.

As Minnesota leaders begin to hash out a budget compromise, Moorhead officials know any budget will mean several million dollars in cuts for the city.

Even under the most generous of four budget plans suggested at the state level, Moorhead would see about $1.9 million in cuts to its state aid over two years.

But the plan with the deepest cuts -- the one drawn up by Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- slashes nearly twice that amount from Moorhead's annual allotment of $8.7 million in state aid.

"Hopefully, in the end, we can modify things so we are treated fairly," said Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland, who is in St. Paul today trying to convince legislators to modify cuts to city aid as they seek to fill a $4.2 billion shortfall.

Moorhead officials know their least favorite plan best -- the Pawlenty proposal would strip the city of $1.2 million this year and $2.4 million next year. That could mean laying off 45 people -- 20 percent of the city's staff, Voxland said.

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A cut that deep would mean even the police and fire departments -- designated by the City Council as their top priority -- would not escape unscathed, said Moorhead City Manager Bruce Messelt.

It also might force the city to raise more revenue -- perhaps by charging for services like street sweeping, raising water and electricity rates, or creating a Park District with taxing authority like Fargo's, Messelt said.

Pawlenty has said his cuts to cities total only 5 percent of their revenues, far less than the 15 percent cuts most state agencies are getting. City councils and managers who cannot handle 5 percent cuts should be fired, he said shortly after his budget was publicized.

Still, other budget plans have restored some of the money he cut from city aid.

For now, the House Republican and Senate Democrat plans are largely sketches.

But estimates by Messelt show if the restored city aid money in the party plans was distributed evenly, Moorhead would see cuts of $2.9 million in the Republican proposal and $2.5 million in the Democratic proposal.

The two plans restore $91 million and $200 million, respectively, to city aid.

Moorhead would fare better in a bill introduced this week by Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, and Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, touted as the Fair Cut budget proposal.

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It would cut $192 million from city aids -- Moorhead's share would be about $1.9 million -- and take a larger share from wealthy suburban communities Moorhead officials say get a break under the governor's plan.

Still, whatever proposal is adopted, the numbers show Moorhead's $600,000 cuts, put in place at the beginning of the year, won't be enough, Messelt said.

"We probably realistically need to double that," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Joy Anderson at (701) 241-5556

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