CGMC lists legislative priorities | News, Sports, Jobs
MARSHALL — As the state faces a $7.7 billion budget surplus, Minnesota cities are calling for investments in local government aid, infrastructure projects and more.
On Thursday morning, members of the Greater Minnesota Cities Coalition said their top priority for the 2022 state legislative session is a $90 million increase in aid to local governments.
“LGA is the lifeline for cities in Greater Minnesota. Without it, rural Minnesota would crumble,”said Luverne Mayor Pat Baustian.
The coalition is also asking for funds for water and sewer infrastructure, daycare centers and housing subsidies.
Baustian, the CGMC chairman, was one of the speakers on a media conference call Thursday morning. CGMC executive director Bradley Peterson said Minnesota’s budget surplus was a “once in a generation” opportunity to invest in areas such as city water supply projects and childcare.
“None of these issues are really new,” said Peterson. “City leaders had been talking about it since long before the pandemic. However, the past two years have amplified these challenges and highlighted the need for long-term solutions.
Peterson was optimistic that state lawmakers would be willing to support the use of the budget surplus for needs such as infrastructure projects, in addition to tax relief.
Peterson and Baustian said securing a $90 million LGA raise was the coalition’s top priority for the state’s next legislative session. LGA helps Minnesota cities pay for needed services without having to impose a heavier tax burden on residents, which Baustian says is important in smaller communities.
“Each city can use it for their own unique needs,” Baustian said.
Baustian said LGA accounts for about 28% of Luverne’s annual budget. However, LGA funding has not kept up with inflation and rising costs.
“Like other cities, our costs have increased a lot in recent years,” Baustian said. “Construction costs have increased by 35 to 50% over the past four years. We have an aging workforce, which drives up costs.
This year, the CGMC will also ask the Legislature to pass a surety bill that includes $299 million for water and wastewater infrastructure grant and loan programs.
“This funding is needed to make progress in addressing the backlog of water infrastructure projects across the state,” said Peterson. “Cities are willing to pay their fair share, but it’s incredibly difficult to pay for these massive projects without a state grant or loan.”
Owatonna Mayor Tom Kuntz said his city has been trying to expand its sewage treatment plant since 2017, but has faced permit delays and other setbacks. During this period, the estimated cost of the project more than doubled, from approximately $25 million to $59 million.
“Obviously, this is a very expensive project for our community. We are seeking all the assistance we can get from the state and other sources so that we do not have to impose the full cost on our local ratepayers,” Kuntz said.
Another key priority for the CGMC this year is child care. The coalition is asking for up to $20 million for a child care capital grant program, which would help local governments build or expand child care centres. They are also seeking $5 million for the DEED Child Care Grant Program to help create new providers and retain existing providers.
Baustian said child care is a critical need for Luverne and other southwestern Minnesota communities. Before the COVID pandemic, Luverne was short of 180 child care spaces, Baustian said. Luverne now lacks more than 250 places.
“When we talk to our local businesses, all we hear is, ‘What are you going to do for childcare?'” he said.
Baustian said the housing shortage is also a major concern.
“In rural Minnesota, there aren’t enough developers who have the money and are willing to build in our communities,” he said. “We are also faced with the question of the aging of the building stock. When housing is already hard to come by, it is essential that we are able to preserve and maintain existing homes in our community. »
This year, the CGMC is seeking funds for infrastructure grants and workforce development programs that will help cities meet housing needs.