Dan Sparks: Economic development, LGA are priorities

Published 9:00 am Sunday, February 5, 2017

Senate Report by Dan Sparks

The first week of February is shaping up to be a busy one at the Capitol. This past week I enjoyed a handful of visitors from our district.

Early in the week I met with Susie Peterson, the executive director of the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as Kim Nelson, the executive director of the Freeborn County Historical Museum. We discussed several Albert Lea priorities relating to the hospitality industry. There are many exciting events in the works that are building on growing tourism interest in the city. They also discussed the Fountain Lake dredging project and the asset the lake will be when it is done. I worked to get this project bonding money in 2014, and the project is finally on a path to get done. The dredging will help make the lake cleaner and more usable — making it a better place to host events and attract local visitors.

Dan Sparks

Dan Sparks

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Later in the week, the Capitol hosted the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. As part of this event, I welcomed city officials from Albert Lea, including Mayor Vern Rasmussen, Council member Larry Baker and City Administrator Chad Adams. We discussed a number of issues that affect the Albert Lea community and region. These meetings are incredibly important and help set my district priorities each legislative session.

Let’s begin with bonding requests. The city of Albert Lea has requested $1.35 million for the Stables area sewer and water project. These bonding dollars would finally help us make the much-needed water connections for this area — a project that has been in the works for many years. This type of project is a great example of how state investment can make a huge difference in our community.

We are also supportive of Riverland Community College’s bonding request to renovate existing space and create a transportation facility where they can move truck driving and collision repair from Austin to Albert Lea and integrate them with Albert Lea’s auto service and diesel programs.

I was happy that both of these projects are funded in the bonding bill that was passed by the Senate Capital Investment Committee. As a member of the committee, I voted for the bill, which is now in the finance committee.

Another big issue I’ll be working on this session is the request for a local option sales tax. The city of Albert Lea, the Lakes Foundation of Albert Lea and the Shell Rock River Watershed District are all working toward renewing the local option tax. In the November election, a question on the ballot asked voters to indicate their support for the project. It was clear from the 72 percent vote in favor of the extension that the plan enjoys widespread community support.

City officials also spoke about how to spur greater economic development in the region as well as different ways to incentivize business growth across Greater Minnesota. I support the positions of the Greater Minnesota Partnership with special attention to a couple of key items including workforce housing and the reduction of the statewide business property tax. I have worked on workforce housing tax credits for several years, as this is an issue that consistently and disproportionately affects communities in our area.

We also discussed the importance of local government aid (LGA) and their hopes of restoring that funding source since it took severe cuts in past deficit years. LGA is a vital tool that local governments use to craft their budgets. It not only helps pay for critical services like police and fire protection, but helps hold down property taxes.

I enjoy meeting with local constituents and elected officials to discuss the needs and long-term plans of the Albert Lea community, and how I can help them make progress on those goals.

Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, represents Senate District 27.