Volunteers Fill Gaps Created by Budget Cuts in Minnesota

As Minnesota officials scramble to fill a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall, cities across the state increasingly are turning to volunteers to help fill service gaps created by budget cuts, the Star Tribune reports.

Earlier this year, the League of Minnesota Cities identified fifty-five examples of cities using volunteers to help government agencies lessen the impact of staff layoffs. Meanwhile, a new survey (17 pages, PDF) of nonprofits and government agencies by the Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration found that 55 percent of the 350 respondents were using volunteers more today than they did two years ago, while 30 percent reported that volunteers had been vital in preserving their ability to deliver services.

Indeed, while volunteers have long been a mainstay of parks and recreation departments in the state, they are now being used to support paid workers in a broad range of roles. The city of Red Wing, for example, has cut twenty full-time employees from its payroll over the past two years and is turning to volunteers to clean bus shelters, rake the city cemetery, and help with "staking and inspecting city construction projects." The situation is similar in Wayzata, where city officials are relying on more than a hundred volunteers to cope with the loss of ten paid positions — about 15 percent of its workforce. And in Mankato, the city has designated a volunteer coordinator to work with department heads in an effort to identify areas of greatest need.

"We knew that volunteers couldn't replace our layoffs, but we were looking to see if we could continue providing our services with diminished staff," said Wayzata mayor Ken Willcox. "Plus, I wanted [residents] to understand the stress that the economy was putting on the city budget."

Jean Hopfensperger. "Volunteers Help Fill Holes That Budget Cuts Left in Cities' Staffs." Minneapolis Star Tribune 02/27/2011.