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Issues that were never addressed

November 14, 2012
The Journal

To the editor:

I would like to be able to thank in person every one of the 1,994 individuals who voted for me in last Tuesday's election in person, but that is an impossibility so I'm doing it by means of this letter to the editor. Obviously, I was disappointed about the outcome, but when I was told by two persons whose opinions I deeply respect that getting 30 percent of the vote for the Councilor at Large position on the City Council was "impressive," I didn't feel quite so bad.

In that vein, I would like to share with The Journal's readers briefly what went on behind the scene in the campaign. Obviously, I was quite surprised when I learned that the council members decided to give themselves a 25-percent pay raise right before the election in which four of the five council members would be involved. It certainly didn't seem to be a bright thing to do right before the election.

However, I soon knew why they did it. I discovered that in trying to talk to people about what I considered to be the issues of the campaign, they weren't listening. All they wanted to do was complain about the council voting itself that large of a pay raise. Suddenly, I knew that, as politically dangerous as such an action was, it was being done to divert people's thinking from the issues I was raising to the action taken by the council in approving the pay raise.

The unfortunate thing for me was that it worked. It didn't matter much to whom I was speaking, the conversation turned almost immediately to what was the council trying to do, giving them selves such a big pay raise. Even when my opponent stepped forward to take the "full" blame (because he felt he was secure in getting re-elected), the pay raise issue continued to hang like a cloud over the election campaign.

Because of that ploy, there were issues that didn't get aired. Number one in my issues book was the "blue sky" that's apparently built into the city's annual budget which impacts how much property tax the good citizens of New Ulm have to pay each year. It also should be noted that the State Auditor's office has developed a "rule of thumb" for determining whether a municipality is being fair to its constituency in determining how much property tax should be levied, for example.

Until this year, the amount a city spends on its operations should have amounted to no more than $1,000 per resident annually, according to the State Auditor's office. For New Ulm, with its 2010 population nailed at 13,522, that would mean its annual budget should be capped at $13,522,000. However, responding to pressure from municipalities around the state, large and small, the State Auditor's office finally did increase the per-resident factor to $1,200. That means New Ulm, in order to be strictly compliant, should have an annual budget that doesn't exceed $16,226,400.

However, New Ulm's 2012 budget tipped the monetary scales at a very hefty $21,588,002, and it appears the 2013 budget which will be addressed by the council in December for changes will be larger than the 2012 budget. As the 2012 budget was partially fueled by a property tax levy that fell just short of $6 million, property owners in New Ulm probably can expect that the tax levy to help fund the 2013 budget will top the $6 million mark.

So, how does the city's annual budget get so far out of line? That's a good question. Obviously, it isn't by accident as the city's annual budget has been in the stratosphere for a number of years now. However, I do know that for several years now the city's annual budget has carried what I call a double entry related to debt retirement. This "double entry" system was requested by the city's finance director probably four or five years ago (or more) because he said his office was having trouble keeping track of the numerous bond issues. So, the net effect of it was that if the city was making payments totaling $2.5 million, for example, it would double the amount of the actual payment resulting in $5 million in bond payments being recorded.

However, the bottom line is that with such a bloated annual budget, it makes New Ulm a more expensive community to live in. But, as this obviously is my first and last go-around at a public office in New Ulm, I can only hope that someone someday will step forward to pull this community out of the past and into the future before it is too late to save it. Also, remember elected public officials like the councilors are subject to recall if enough of you feel that a change needs to be made. God bless you all.

Ron Larsen

New Ulm



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