Senator Dan Sparks: Local bonding projects get first bump

In Minnesota, even-numbered years are typically called “bonding years,” when the legislature puts most of its focus into improving public resources across the state. Bonding is a process that allows the state to issue bonds to pay for the construction and upkeep of public buildings and infrastructure across Minnesota. The interest rates on this debt are typically quite low, and lawmakers work within rigid debt limits to ensure it’s a responsible process.

The idea is that the improvements will have a strong return-on-investment for all taxpayers, both by attracting new economic activity and improving the resources and aesthetics of towns throughout the state. A good amount of time is invested into touring projects seeking state dollars so lawmakers have a solid understanding of the need and potential impact on local communities.

In early January, the Senate’s bonding committee stopped in Albert Lea to review Riverland Community College’s proposal for upgrades. The college is seeking $10.1 million to remodel and expand current facilities to accommodate a consolidated Truck Driving and Collision Repair program, among other needs. Riverland’s facilities haven’t been significantly updated in more than 40 years; the longer we wait, the more repair bills will mount and the more outdated the current educational equipment will become. Harnessing the state’s bonding capacity to update the facility make sense for taxpayers and the local community alike.

I was happy to see Governor Dayton recognize the need for this project when he announced his preliminary list of bonding projects last week. His proposal only recommended $6.78 million of the $10.1 million requested, but I will continue working for additional funding as this legislative session progresses.

We have several other local projects hoping to make the final list as well. In Austin, the city is seeking $4 million to create a recreational area near Ramsey Mill Pond. Part of this would include acquiring flood-prone land in the area and connecting the current rail systems to the abandoned railroad bridge to once again make this a useable, accessible area. The City of Austin is also looking for $500,000 to create a portage and trailhead on the Cedar River near the planned community center. The Cedar River Watershed District hopes to receive $2.3 million to continue water retention and stabilization efforts. CRWD work would improve water quality and reduce flood risk at many sites throughout Freeborn and Mower counties.

Albert Lea, in addition to the Riverland Community College upgrades, is seeking $20 million to create a recreational hub at the former Farmland Foods site and another $1.9 million to complete the Blazing Star Trail – and a bridge over Albert Lea Lake – from Myre-Big Island to Hayward.

The Governor will have another forthcoming list of local project recommendations and the House and Senate will be working to evaluate and select projects in the coming weeks. My job as your State Senator, and also a member of the Capital Investment Committee will be to convince other colleagues that these are worthwhile investments. If you have thoughts on these projects or personal stories that may help explain the need to other lawmakers, I’d certainly appreciate your input.

My contact information is sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn or 651-296-9248. You also can keep track of what the legislature is doing on the website, www.senate.mn, where you can sign up to follow committees of interest or receive other notifications.

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Senator Dan Sparks
Dan Sparks represents District 27, which includes all or portions of Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Mower, and Steele counties in the southeastern part of the state.

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