2 local projects included in bonding bill head to governor’s desk

Published 9:36 pm Monday, May 21, 2018

A more than $10 million bonding request from Riverland Community College to relocate truck and driving and collision programs from Austin to Albert Lea and a $3.23 million request from the city of Albert Lea to connect sewer and water lines to the Stables area were included in this year’s bonding bill.

The requests were passed in the $825 million bonding bill that was awaiting approval from Gov. Mark Dayton as of Monday afternoon. The city of Albert Lea requested $1.9 million in bonding for a bridge over Albert Lea Lake that would connect Blazing Star Trail from Myre-Big Island State Park to Hayward and $20 million for two phases of development of Blazing Star Landing, but those requests were not included in the bonding bill.

The Riverland project would relocate truck driving and collision programs from Austin to Albert Lea and integrate the programs into shared spaces with auto service and diesel programs. The college hopes to demolish the Gateway Building and construct 7,482 square feet in additional space.

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The city applied this year for a $3.23 million loan from the Clean Water Revolving Fund/Drinking Revolving Fund to connect sewer and water lines to the Stables area.

“I’m excited about that,” said District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett.

She said though she was disappointed Blazing Star Landing and Blazing Star Trail work were not included in the bonding bill, “they were pretty blessed to have two projects in there.”

Bennett said the Riverland project is important for students and the region’s economic viability because of the area’s need for trade workers.

She said there were significantly more bonding requests than projects the state could fund this year, noting the “meat and potatoes” projects needed to be funded before the others.

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks said the Legislature’s No. 1 goal this year was passing a bonding bill.

“That was certainly something we’re proud of,” he said.

Albert Lea 2nd Ward City Councilor Larry Baker called the inclusion of the two projects “a good thing,” noting the city had been trying to complete the Stables project before he arrived on the council 12 years ago.

“The people out there, they’ve been patient and they’ve been wanting to get this thing done,” he said.

To Baker, the inclusion of Riverland work is good for Albert Lea because more students will attend school in Albert Lea and the upgrades were needed.

Baker called it “unfortunate” that funding was not secured for Blazing Star Trail work. He said completing the project could have drawn tourists to the city.

To Baker, receiving bonding dollars to develop Blazing Star Landing “would be huge for the city.”

“You kind of hope you can get it all, but if you get some of it, you have to be happy with what you get,” he said.

Sparks said the Shell Rock River Watershed District received $1.4 million from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for the Fountain Lake restoration project and $300,000 for a stormwater quality pilot program.

The Legislature passed a number of bills by the end of the legislative session Sunday night, but the legislation is facing a veto threat by Dayton.

Under an education package that passed, more than $225 million would be available for all K-12 schools. Nearly $30 million would be available for school safety funding, which would allow schools to receive grants to have assessments done on safety needs.

“I really hope the governor will look seriously at these bills and sign them,” Bennett said.

She said school safety funding would include grants so districts can assess safety needs, increase security, possibly add cameras and hire social workers or mental health professionals.

“That funding is pretty flexible for schools, which I really like,” Bennett said. 

Under the bill, $5 million in ongoing funding would be available for school mental health grants. Bennett’s bill that would help schools use telemedicine to help students access mental health services was included.

She said the legislation could help, as 50 of the more than 350 districts across the state have contemplated laying off teachers because of funding shortages.

Sparks said he was pleased the bill addressed school safety, an issue he said is bipartisan.

In a press conference Sunday night before the end of the legislative session, Dayton said a majority of education funding would come from shifting resources from other areas, which he opposes.

Dayton predicted there would be “draconian cuts” next fall to schools, which could include teacher layoffs and curriculum cutbacks.

“That’s real stuff,” he said. “That’s the stuff they should be focused on.”



Legislators passed tax cuts for wealthy Minnesotans and middle class taxpayers.

Sparks said there were good and bad provisions in the bill. He said tax cuts reduced the state’s revenue too much, which could threaten the state’s long-term fiscal stability.

Sparks noted Dayton vetoed the first tax bill and threatened to veto the second.

Bennett said the tax bill includes revisions that align the state’s tax code more with the federal government. She said the tax bill allows legislators to ensure they meet their goal of not raising taxes.

Dayton said the tax cut disproportionately benefits wealthy Minnesotans.



The transportation bill passed this year includes $57 million in funding in small cities assistance, township road aid and local bridge replacement. 

Bennett said funding would be available for small local communities such as Clarks Grove, Wells, Glenville and other communities.

Sparks said funding will hopefully provide relief for small cities.

Republicans agreed on a package that included $79 million for the University of Minnesota and $129 million for Minnesota State, and more than $500 million for the Department of Transportation.

Bennett said the Legislature successfully ensured the state’s Department of Health would not see cuts and passed legislation that helps protect the state’s senior citizens.


Dayton to veto?

In a press conference Sunday night before the session ended, Dayton expressed disappointment with how the session unfolded.

“It’s just so vile,” he said. “I’ve seen partisan differences before. I’ve dealt with partisan differences — I’ve dealt with Republican legislatures, and we’ve had impasses which were based on primarily very different views of what’s best for Minnesota … this is different than that.

“This is different than anything I’ve ever experienced before.”

Dayton claimed legislators approached the legislative session based on trying to get re-elected. 

“It is disgusting,” he said.

On tax and supplemental budget bills, Dayton said he has “seen nothing that would indicate to me that I would sign either one of them.”

Dayton, who is not running for re-election this year, hammered the GOP-controlled Senate and House for their approach this year.

“I’ve never seen a session this badly mismanaged,” he said. “I’ve never seen a session less transparent. I’ve never seen a session more beholden to special interests.”

“It’s been a debacle, but it’s been a debacle of their own creation.”

Bennett said Dayton should sign the bills. 

“They’re good, solid bills,” Bennett said.

Though legislators have not agreed on every aspect of the bills, they have compromised, Bennett said.

She urged Dayton to understand what is at stake if he vetoes legislation, adding making sure the state’s tax code conforms with the federal government is “so huge.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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