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NYM mayor Hodgson focuses on positive growth in State of the City

In his annual State of the City address, Mayor Larry Hodgson pointed out New York Mills continued positive growth in 2008, despite all the talk of the bad economy. Before speaking to that subject, the mayor opened with a little humor.

"I feel that after listening to so many political speeches in the last two days that I should have some catchy phrase to begin tonight's speech," Hodgson said. "I would like to point out that as soon as President Obama assumed office our weather changed for the better. Now, let's hope our economy follows the same track."

Hodgson delivered his speech at the Civic & Commerce annual meeting, held Jan. 21 in the City Hall Ballroom. In the past year, the city issued 24 building permits with a project value of approximately $514,000. New home construction value was $276,000; commercial construction value was $177,000 and residential additions and renovations equaled $61,000. Although this wasn't nearly what has been completed in the past two years, Hodgson indicated, "it shows that progress is still happening in New York Mills."

Last year the city alone paid out $302,000 to local contractors who were awarded contracts to complete rehab projects as part of a Small Cities Development Grant.

Perhaps the most noticeable visual improvement completed in 2008 was to the water tower.

"I would find it hard to believe that you haven't noticed the marked improvement that was made this past year to our water tower," Hodgson said in his speech. "I feel that the council did an outstanding job of selecting a design for th tower that we all can be proud of. This past summer, that subject was the #1 issue that people on the street and in the cafes wanted to talk about. Hopefully, you noticed the beautiful ice sculptures that were recently added to the tower."

Hodgson also drew attention to the very room the C&C was meeting.

"I would like you to know what it means to have a facility such as this one which we are using tonight for this event. Without even advertising that we have as wonderful a place as this, we generated $22,000 in rental fees for the banquet hall and party room, wand weekend bookings are already beginning to fill up for next year. Now, if only we had a motel in our community to keep those who use this place here to patronize the businesses in New York Mills."

Looking ahead to what's in store for the community in 2009, Hodgson recognized the city's special birthday to be celebrated this summer. It was 125 years ago the State of Minnesota recognized NY Mills' charter to become an official city of the state. Plans to celebrate this event have been in the works for several months and will continue up to the celebration, scheduled for July 3-5.

"So if you are asked to be a part of this celebration I hope that you eagerly say 'yes' to doing your part to making this event a success."

After talking about positive building and growth in the community, Hodgson touched on the "not so good" portion of his speech, citing the community has been part of the unemployment picture with Lund Boat Co. laying off approximately 200 employees the last two months.

"But in meeting with the President of Lunds today, he assures us that they have done everything that they need to do to keep Lunds in business and producing their outstanding line of boats," Hodgson commented.

On the subject of cuts to Local Government Aid (LGA), NY Mills last year was assured the city would receive $315,000 for the year and it was to be paid in two equal amounts. But on Dec. 26, Governor Pawlenty invoked his unallotment privilege and reduced the city's second payment by $28,000.

"He has subsequently stated that cities and counties will again not receive their total allotted amount," Hodgson indicated. "In fact, we expect that our payment will be reduced by 25-30 percent. In other words, we will be losing out on an estimated $75,000 to $100,000 in government assistance."

"So, how do we make up for this shortfall?," the mayor asked.

"We have begun to deal with this by asking each city department head to come up with suggestions as to where we could save money. We will then be holding a special meeting of the city council on Jan. 27 to look at these suggestions and hopefully put into play a plan that will allow us to cover this shortage."

One of the first things the city did, Hodgson told the C&C, is to not give city employees their COLA raises for the year, "and if the governor has his way this wage freeze will be in place for the next two years."

Other suggestions, and Hodgson emphasized these are suggestions, that may have to be implemented are to restrict overtime and comp time for employees, close the airport, cancel seal coating and pothole repairs, do less mowing of parks and road ditches, close one skating rink, defer equipment purchases, reduce travel and training expenses, adjust health insurance contributions, reduce pool hours, reduce contributions to the fire department, and eliminate some part-time summer help, eliminate free snow removal and sidewalk cleaning for businesses.

Hogdson said the city does not want to see all these changes but they are a possibility. He added the city will likely have to increase the tax levy in 2009 to make up for the shortfall.

"In any case, we want to be ahead of the game when Governor Pawlenty presents his budget to the Minnesota House and Senate. We can't wait until April or May to find out how much we will lose. We have to take a proactive approach to this problem."

Hodgson closed the State of the City address with this message: "When discussing this problem on radio and television, people are constantly saying that Minnesotans are strong, resilient, and innovative, and can handle these problems better than most. I sure hope they are correct because these next two years are going to be difficult, and I promise that I will do my best to insure that the health and safety of the people of New York Mills is our first priority and it will not be compromised. Thank you."