Dan Sparks: Legislature should approve Austin’s capital investment requests

Published 12:16 pm Saturday, May 5, 2018

Every year, infrastructure that is collectively owned by Minnesota taxpayers (such as veterans homes and college campuses) experience normal wear and tear. If not addressed in a timely manner, small issues can grow into expensive problems, so it is incumbent upon state lawmakers to work with their local elected officials to make sure taxpayers are getting a good return on their original investment.

As a member of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, I help state lawmakers do their due diligence on hundreds of requests and narrow down the list to projects that will provide the most bang for our buck. The committee’s ultimate goal is to pass a capital investment bill (better known as the “bonding bill”) that responds to the requests we received from local officials. Bonding bills require three-fifths of support from each legislative body to pass (81 house representatives and 41 senators), meaning that lawmakers must work together and find common ground before awarding funding for projects. It’s also important to keep in mind that public construction projects create good jobs and provide a paycheck for Minnesota workers.

This year, the Legislature received more than $3 billion in bonding requests from local governments. Gov. Dayton released a proposal in January and the list of projects that the House intends to fund came out this week. To date, the Senate majority has not released a plan for public discussion. I am the chief Senate author of requests from the city of Austin, and I have been urging my colleagues on the Capital Investment Committee to include these vital projects in their plan:

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•$2.8 million to construct an Austin regional public television station (Senate File 2624) KSMQ Public Television proposes to construct a multimedia broadcast facility in Austin. A standalone facility would ensure that KSMQ could provide the opportunity for additional production of local programming. A more visible physical location for KSMQ is critical for the long-term survival of the resource. The station’s TV market stretches from Mankato to Winona and includes the city of Rochester and Mason City, Iowa.

•$2.3 million to complete Cedar River Watershed District capital improvement program (Senate File 3347) Cedar River Watershed District (CRWD) is requesting $2.3 million in state bonding funds to complete its five-year, $8.4 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) initiative to build 25 structures on agricultural land for water retention and/or ravine stabilization to improve water quality and reduce flooding. This is an innovative strategy being watched by others in Minnesota because it focuses on the underutilized concept of focusing projects on “upland storage” — retaining and slowly releasing large amounts of stormwater in a watershed’s headwaters. State funds will support CRWD’s projects in relation to easement acquisition; project design; and construction to complete CIP’s Phase II.

•$4 million to create a recreational area near Austin Ramsey Mill pond (Senate File 271) Create a recreational area near Mower County’s largest body of water—Ramsey Mill Pond—part of the Cedar River State Water Trail featuring a paved trail connecting the Austin trail system to a historic, abandoned railroad bridge on one of the state’s oldest rail beds; today a DNR Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) trail. This also connects to the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, where the state’s Shooting Star Trail will enter Austin.

•$500,000 to restore and enhance Austin waterways (Senate File 272) Enhance a stretch along the Cedar River State Water Trail within the City of Austin’s downtown area that has significant historical value to the city and offers a great connection point for recreational users on the river and the city’s paved pedestrian trail. This area is also near the site of the city’s planned $35 million community recreation center that will replace a former downtown power production plant.

•Turtle Creek wastewater improvement project This project is a small portion of the Public Facilities Authority (PFA) entire $167 million bonding request. The project is ranked #113 on the Point Source Implementation Grant List.