Mayor of Luverne calls for expansion of local government assistance to rural communities – The Globe

LUVERNE — Pat Baustian, mayor of Luverne and chair of the Greater Minnesota Cities Coalition, spoke in an online meeting Thursday morning about the need for state lawmakers to increase local government assistance to rural communities .

Just days before the start of Minnesota’s legislative session — in which lawmakers will decide what to do with a $7.7 billion budget surplus — Baustian, along with Owatonna Mayor Thomas Kuntz, provided a personal testimony on the highest funding priorities outlined by CGMC Executive Director, Bradley Peterson, during the 30-minute press call.

The group is calling for a $90 million increase in aid to local governments, which Peterson says will help contain property taxes and ensure communities are able to provide high-quality public services. Peterson said linking for LGA has grown just 16% since 2009.

“Now is the time to boost LGA to help cities catch up and meet their costs,” he shared.

Baustian called local government assistance a lifeline for rural Minnesota towns.

“Without it, rural Minnesota towns would crumble,” he added. In Luverne, LGA accounts for approximately 28% of the city budget. “Like other cities, our costs have increased significantly in recent years. Construction costs have increased by 35-50% over the past four years. We have an aging workforce, which drives up costs. But LGA has not kept pace with rising costs and inflation.

One of the biggest benefits for cities that receive help from local government is that they can apply it where it’s needed.

Peterson said city leaders have expressed a need to improve city streets, address water and wastewater infrastructure needs and expand housing.

The top priority for Luverne and Rock County, however, is addressing the critical shortage of child care providers, Baustian said.

In late 2021, Luverne City Council voted to make a bid on a building that previously housed Total Card Inc. with the intention of renovating it into a city-owned child care centre. They are now in the process of buying the 30,000 square foot building for $515,000, and Baustian said the renovation would cost between $1.5 million and $2 million.

Before the pandemic, Rock County had 36 home child care providers and no child care centers, and was short 180 child care spaces. In 2021, the county lost nine providers and is now more than 250 child care spaces short.

The lack of available child care, combined with a housing shortage, Baustian said, are the two biggest obstacles for communities in Rock County.

“Employers cannot find workers if they have nowhere to live or no one to look after their children while they work,” he said.

Peterson said the shortage of child care providers is widespread across the state, with an estimated shortage of 40,000 child care spaces.

“Greater Minnesota has been losing child care providers at a much faster rate than Metro,” Peterson said, noting that CGMC is filing a $20 million claim in a mix of bond and cash for the Greater Minnesota Child Care Facility Capital Grant Program. The program was included in the 2020 bail bill, but was not funded. Peterson said the program, if funded, would provide grants of up to $500,000 to help local government units with the costs of purchasing, constructing or renovating a building for child care purposes. children.

CGMC is also requesting $5 million for the state Department of Employment and Economic Development’s child care subsidy program.

On housing, CGMC is asking for $5 million for a new Greater Minnesota Repair Fund; $2.5 million for a new public housing infrastructure grant program and $6 million to add to the Greater Minnesota Workforce Development Fund.

CGMC’s largest demand is for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, including $299 million in surety for the Public Facilities Authority’s grant and loan programs. Peterson said the request is for $150 million to be directed to the Point Source Implementation Grant program, $100 million to the Water Infrastructure Fund and $49 million to the state matching fund. for federal funds.

With relatively low interest rates and a healthy budget surplus, Peterson said now is the time to work on aging infrastructure and deal with the backlog of dozens of water projects across the state.

Kuntz, the mayor of Owatonna, spoke specifically about the necessary expansion of that city’s sewage treatment plant. The city has been trying to complete a project since 2017, and in the five years since, the project — which involves growing a 5 million gallon treatment plant to 9 million gallons per day — has more than doubled. of cost. from $25 million to $50 million, plus an additional $7 million in design and engineering costs.

Failure to fund plant expansion will limit the city’s growth, Kuntz said.

“We hope to reach 40,000 people by 2040 (and our processing plant is) at 90% capacity today,” he explained. “In order to manage commercial and residential growth, we have to do something.”

Kuntz said the city has $17 million in reserves and $10 million will go toward expansion, but that’s clearly not enough.

“These are huge costs, and many more are facing these increased costs,” Peterson said. “We need a rural bond bill so we can help defray the costs of some of these projects.”

Owatonna is one of 26 cities seeking a Point Source Implementation Grant (PSIG) from the state to help offset the costs of wastewater treatment projects. However, the current PSIG cap is $7 million. Peterson said that in addition to seeking additional funding for water infrastructure programs, CGMC also plans to introduce legislation that would remove the cap on this program.

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