An update on bills with local connections

Published 9:16 am Friday, April 5, 2013

Editor’s note: This column originally was slated to print Sunday. However, due to the Easter break, staff at the Capitol were unable to send it to the Tribune. We are printing it today instead.

We are now halfway through the 2013 legislative session. For much of this session, we have been laying the groundwork for Minnesota’s 2014-2015 budget. An important part of this foundation is our budget targets.

Dan Sparks

Dan Sparks

Last week, the House and Senate announced their targets setting the framework for closing Minnesota’s $627 million budget shortfall. These numbers offer new and important routes for strengthening education and providing much needed tax relief to Minnesotans.

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Over the next couple of months, we will continue budget conversations working with the House, Gov. Mark Dayton and the citizens of Minnesota to create a responsible and sustainable budget.

Additionally, we’ll be spending more time on the Senate floor voting on various finance and policy bills. Some of the legislation we’ll hear affects all Minnesotans. Others, however, connect directly to our southeastern Minnesota communities. Here are just a few of the more localized projects I’ve been working on at the Capitol.

Riverland Community College is seeking bonding funds for renovations at their Albert Lea campus. I recently introduced a bill for this project and will work with the college and the Minnesota System of Colleges and Universities to support this project. These renovations would increase efficiency and flexibility of classroom and student service areas as well as improve energy efficiency across the campus.

Also this session, I’ve continued my work with local leaders to secure funds for the restoration of Fountain Lake. Many of you, including city, business and community leaders, have been involved in supporting the project. Not only will this restoration continue building on the water quality and environmental improvements that have been made in the watershed, but from an economic standpoint, renovation is essential. Fountain Lake is a huge draw for the city’s businesses and recreational tourism.

The Senate Environment and Economic Development Budget Division have heard the bill. Local leaders and I have also met with the governor’s bonding staff to request their support of the project. Ensuring the success of this project is a top priority of mine, and I am optimistic about its continued progress through the legislature.

At the request of Freeborn County, I have authored a bill allowing for the public sale of some tax-fortified land that they had previous planned to sell but discovered they would need legislation due to this parcel having shoreland.

Freeborn County has determined that its land management interests would be best served if the land was returned to private ownership. The provision for this land sale is included in the omnibus lands bill, which is out of the necessary policy committees and will not be heard in the Finance Committee.

I also have a bill to help small rural fire departments save money on yearly audits, which has passed out of committee to the Senate floor. Currently, fire departments with $200,000 or more in assets or liabilities must have a yearly audit performed. In some cases, these audits cost 25 to 50 percent of the fire department’s state aid — a huge impact.

I heard from the Kiester Fire Department about the requirement and how it affects their budget. They said that since reaching the $200,000 mark, they’ve spent up to $2,500 for their audit each year, yet they only receive between $8,000 and $9,000 in state aid. Prior to reaching the audit requirement, their account reviews by a local CPA cost them only $75.

My bill would raise the trigger amount requiring an audit to $500,000. This higher mark will allow more small rural fire departments to utilize their state aid more effectively. I am confident this bill will pass on the floor and become law soon.

As always, I encourage you to reach out to my office and share your comments or concerns about my legislative activities. We’re addressing a lot of big issues this session and it’s important we keep communication open between the Capitol and residents of District 27.


Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the state senator for District 27.