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Mila Koumpilova, Published January 29 2009

City, school district cuts sting Moorhead

But raising taxes not popular idea among residents

A double whammy of bad financial news has buffeted Moorhead residents in recent days.

They found out their school district will trim $4.9 million from its budget, likely letting scores of staff members go to the detriment of class sizes.

They also discovered the city of Moorhead might resort to cuts, too, after Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed reducing its budget by roughly $2.4 million over two years.

Mayor Mark Voxland said the city, which cut 10 percent of its work force in 2002 and adopted a hiring freeze last year, is already lean. Trimming further will be a challenge, and city leaders might need a property tax hike next year – a move he hopes the city will dodge.

“People are having a hard year this year, too,” Voxland said. “I don’t think there will be a lot of appetite for raising property taxes.”

Moorhead school officials are also considering asking taxpayers for help in an operating levy referendum. For now, says Superintendent Lynne Kovash, trimming roughly 10 percent of the district budget is necessary to avoid plunging into the red.

“Our goal is to balance the budget, and that’s what it takes,” she told board members this week.

Both leaders say they could use some constructive suggestions from local residents.

“It sounds kind of corny, but I do believe citizens have some good ideas out there,” Voxland said.

The city will shortly solicit feedback on its Web site, and the school district will hold a public forum Feb. 10. In the meantime, The Forum spoke with a cross-section of Moorhead residents to get their take on how city leaders should weather these lean times.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mila Koumpilova at (701) 241-5529