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CGMC Programs

For Immediate Release
Nov. 17, 2017
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com 

A PDF version of this press release is available here.                                                                            

Greater Minnesota city leaders to state lawmakers: Now is not the time to press the pause button

ALEXANDRIA, MINN.— As the legal fight over funding for the Legislature drags on and the 2018 governor’s race heats up, Greater Minnesota city leaders are urging lawmakers to keep their focus on the upcoming legislative session and not fall prey to distractions. 

More than 100 other city officials from throughout Greater Minnesota convened in Alexandria this week for the CGMC’s annual two-day fall conference. At the event, CGMC members adopted the organization’s policy positions and discussed legislative priorities for the 2018 legislative session. While a bonding bill, local government aid (LGA) and city streets were among the top issues, city leaders also stressed the importance of making sure legislators stay on task.

“Now is not the time to press the pause button,” said Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski, who serves as president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “Greater Minnesota still has a lot of unaddressed needs. We are counting on our legislators to stay focused on their jobs and their commitment to strengthening our communities.”

Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson voiced concern that with an election looming, legislators may be more interested in touting accomplishments from last session than passing new legislation in 2018.

“The Legislature may have passed tax, transportation and bonding bills last year, but that doesn’t mean their job is done for the biennium,” said Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson. “Truth is, the progress made in 2017 only scratches the surface when it comes to meeting all of the ongoing and growing needs in our city and others in Greater Minnesota.”

City officials who attended the conference agreed that a bonding bill likely poses the best hope for passing a piece of major legislation in 2018, noting that many legislators have voiced a desire for a large public works bill to make key investments in the state’s infrastructure. While each city has its own individual needs, a recurring theme throughout Greater Minnesota is the need for additional state bonding dollars to help repair or replace aging waste water treatment facilities.

In addition to bonding, the CGMC plans to advocate for an LGA increase to help cities make up for inflation and increasing costs, as well as funding to assist with much-needed repairs to city streets. There are also a number of issues on the horizon that the CGMC hopes the Legislature will keep on its radar, including the impact a national tax overhaul could have on local communities and the growing child care shortage in Greater Minnesota.

“Legislators and the Governor will have plenty of work to cram into a few short weeks,” Smiglewski said. “Residents of Greater Minnesota expect our state leaders to set their squabbles aside, buckle down and pass legislation that will invest in the future of our communities.”

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The MPCA began hearings this week on the sulfate water quality standard which will apply to facilities that discharge into “wild rice waters.” Cities located within 25-60 miles upstream of such waters will be evaluated first by the MPCA to determine whether a limit is required. CGMC members on the list include Alexandria, Babbitt, Bagley, Bemidji, Biwabik, Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, Ely, Foley, Hinckley, Hoyt Lakes, Le Sueur (Minnesota River Valley Public Utilities Commission), Plainview, Princeton, Red Wing, Rushford, Sandstone, Staples, Wabasha, Wadena and Winona.
 
Our preliminary analysis demonstrates that future compliance with the sulfate standard could require expensive treatment upgrades such as reverse osmosis, membrane filtration, and/or crystallization and evaporation. These upgrades could cost individual cities $10-$20 million or more, depending upon site-specific information. 
 
We recommend that affected cities participate in the rulemaking process by submitting comments and/or attending a public hearing. Hearings began Oct. 23 in St. Paul, and will be held around the state over the next few weeks. You can find a complete list of hearings here.
 
We are in the process of finalizing our talking points for affected cities and will be circulating those soon. If you would like a copy or have other questions, please email Elizabeth Wefel at eawefel@flaherty-hood.com.

Each fall, CGMC members work together to shape the Coalition’s policy positions for the upcoming legislative session. Policy committees will be convening by conference call in October and early November to draft recommendations which will be discussed and voted on by the full membership at the Fall Conference Nov. 16-17. Serving on a policy committee is a great way to contribute to the work of the CGMC. Please contact the appropriate staff member listed below if you are interested in serving on one or more of the committees. The exact meeting dates and times will be determined soon.

Registration is now open!

The conference will be held Thursday, Nov. 16-Friday, Nov. 17 at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center in Alexandria. To register, fill out this online registration form. Attendees can either pay now via credit card or be invoiced later. (The original deadline to register was Nov. 8, but we are still accepting late registrations.)

CGMC members have been vocal about the needs and concerns affecting their communities. Based on your feedback, our conference agenda touches on a number of critical issues:

  • Child care. Marnie Werner of the Center for Rural Policy will kick off the conference by sharing the findings of CPR’s study “A Quiet Crisis: Minnesota’s Child Care Shortage.” She will be followed by a panel discussion featuring economic development experts and child care professionals who will talk about the economic implications of the child care shortage and ways in which city leaders can play a role in developing solutions to this growing problem.
  • Broadband. Bill Coleman, president of Community Technology Advisors, will provide a critical perspective on rural broadband challenges and public policy considerations.
  • Transportation and the upcoming legislative session. A bipartisan group of legislators will discuss the pros and cons of the 2017 transportation bill and the Legislature’s future plans to address transportation and other key issues.  
  • Labor and employee relations. Attorney Brandon Fitzsimmons will summarize the legal framework for and moderate a panel discussion with Greater Minnesota city officials on the “productive” and “unproductive” involvement of elected officials in dealing with personnel issues in their city.
  • Environmental regulations. CGMC staff will provide an update on the Environmental Action Fund, including legal and regulatory action relating to water quality regulations.

Attendees will also adopt the CGMC’s legislative policy positions and priorities for the 2018 legislative session. Your input helps set the CGMC’s legislative agenda, so it is vital that you attend the conference and share your ideas and opinions!

Please note that attendees are responsible for booking their own hotel rooms. A block of rooms is reserved for the CGMC at a rate of $94 a night. Call Arrowwood at 320-762-1124 to make a reservation.

If you have any questions about the conference, please contact CGMC Communications Director Julie Liew at 651-259-1917 or jlliew@flaherty-hood.com.

The Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) is responsible for recommending how $45.7 million from the Environmental Trust Fund should be spent. The LCCMR received a total of 217 proposals requesting approximately $183 million in funding, and narrowed it down to 101 projects requesting $120.4 million for proposals to present over the next two weeks.

A number of the projects in the running for funding could benefit Greater Minnesota. Proposal 201-G would provide $3 million for local parks, trails and natural areas grants. These grant programs provide funding to projects that do not qualify for Legacy funds and they are a top priority for the Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails organization to which many CGMC cities belong. 

In another proposal, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is seeking funding for a wastewater treatment plant optimization pilot program (proposal 035-B) that would seek ways to help facilities perform better and meet stricter standards without costly facility upgrades. CGMC cities would be eligible to apply for the pilot if it is funded.

You can review these projects and others selected here (the projects that will present to the LCCMR are marked with an X).

Please consider reaching out to LCCMR members and ask them to support projects that benefit Greater Minnesota, particularly the two mentioned above. You can find the members’ contact information here.

In a Star Tribune editorial published last Sunday, columnist Lori Sturdevant wrote about the state’s failure over the past decade to fund Local Government Aid (LGA) on par with inflation and how this lagging investment in LGA has led to higher local property taxes.
 
The column highlights the recent announcement of proposed property tax increases in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minneapolis proposed a 5.5 percent increase, while St. Paul is looking into a 23.9 percent increase (the large increase is to make up for the city’s right-of-way assessment, which was ruled unconstitutional in court). Sturdevant notes that if LGA funding had kept pace with inflation, property taxpayers across the state would not be shouldering such a significant burden.
 
The CGMC is grateful that the LGA program has long received broad, bi-partisan support, but as Sturdevant’s column mentions, some GOP gubernatorial candidates recently made concerning statements about LGA. As we reported in a previous edition of the CGMC in Brief, at a Republican gubernatorial candidate forum in July, two candidates made comments that reflect common misconceptions or outright falsehoods about the program — while the other candidates chose not to answer the LGA question at all. In particular, Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) mischaracterized LGA as taking money out of the pockets of taxpayers and sending over half of it to Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth. Rep. Dean also said that the program is “not a fair deal” for middle-class Minnesotans.

A transcript of the forum discussion regarding LGA can be read here, while video of the entire forum can be streamed here (the LGA comments begin around 1:26:50).
 
In response to these comments, then-CGMC President Sara Carlson sent a letter to all of the candidates who participated in the forum to set the record straight. The CGMC has always been vigilant in protecting the LGA program and refuting false claims about it. As we head toward the 2018 election, the CGMC will continue to monitor political forums and other events. As a non-partisan organization, we strive to inform and educate all candidates about LGA and other issues that are important to Greater Minnesota communities.

The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) is public body composed of several agency heads, as well as members of the public appointed by the Governor. The EQB provides leadership and coordination on statewide environmental issues including environmental review, state water planning and coordination, and strategic energy and environmental planning. This year, the Legislature expanded the number of citizen slots and specifically designated four for Greater Minnesota, one from each of the rural congressional districts 1,2, 7 and 8.

The posting for these positions will remain open until filled, but the first review of applications will take place Aug. 25. You can learn more here.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue recently certified the Local Government Aid (LGA) amounts for 2018, which is the amount cities can expect following the $15 million permanent increase passed by the 2017 Legislature. The information is available on the LGA page on the Department of Revenue’s website.
 
The total 2018 LGA appropriation is $534,398,012, and accounts for 2.5% of the general fund budget ‒ down from 4.3% in 2002.
 
Greater Minnesota continues to receive more than 65% of LGA, as it has since 2007. The amount of LGA that goes to Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Duluth ‒ which is an issue for some legislators ‒ continues to decrease and is now 32.5% of the total LGA appropriation.

A variety of important issues including Minnesota’s fiscal health, the relationship between the state and local governments, the future of the state’s manufacturing industry, the arts and the upcoming 2020 Census were explored at the CGMC’s annual summer conference, which was held Aug. 2-4 in Fergus Falls. Throughout the three-day conference participants were also treated to tours of city attractions like Fergus Falls’ historic downtown and the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center, and an awards dinner that honored 26 legislators and city leaders for their work on behalf of Greater Minnesota during the 2017 Legislative Session.

Read on to find out more about the conference highlights. To see photos from the event, please check out our conference photo album on Facebook.

Presentation performs a ‘checkup’ on Minnesota’s fiscal health

CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson kicked off the conference by performing a “checkup” on Minnesota’s fiscal health. During his presentation, he provided analysis on the recently passed state budget and past fiscal trends to determine whether the state was still on solid financial footing. He concluded that while the state is currently healthy, there are some concerns on the horizon that could lead to budget troubles in the future. You can view the Power Point presentation here.

Veteran Capitol Press Corps journalists participate in panel discussion

One of the highlights of the conference was a panel discussion titled “The Minnesota Capitol Press Corps: Front-Row Seats at the Circus” featuring journalists Brian Bakst of Minnesota Public Radio, Lori Sturdevant of the Star Tribune and Bill Werner of Minnesota News Network, each of whom has at least 20 years of experience covering state politics.
 
The panelists discussed everything from whether Greater Minnesota gets the news coverage it deserves to the biggest challenges they have faced in their years covering the state Legislature and lawmakers. They also provided advice to city leaders on ways to can keep the media — and the public — interested in the issues that are important to their cities. All three panelists said the most important thing city leaders can do is be in touch with local and state media and keep sharing their stories.

In addition to participating in the panel discussion, the journalists also used the CGMC Summer Conference as a chance to talk to city leaders and get caught up on Greater Minnesota issues. Sturdevant wrote an excellent editorial for the Sunday Star Tribune about city officials’ concerns about lingering unmet needs. Werner also did a great story and a radio interview with CGMC President Sara Carlson about issues that are important to the CGMC and rural communities.

You can watch the full panel discussion here.

Teaching cities to unlock their creative assets for economic success

Springboard for the Arts Executive Director Laura Zabel and Rural Program Director Michele Anderson led a presentation and discussion about ways cities can use the arts to help drive economic development. They provided examples of how rural cities of all sizes are utilizing the arts as a powerful tool to engage their communities, promote tourism and enhance quality of life. In their presentation, they shared techniques that communities across Minnesota and the nation have used to address local challenges and opportunities related to the arts.
 
Their presentation also included some small-group discussion and an exercise in which attendees were encouraged to design a flag that showcases their city. The flags were displayed on Wednesday evening at the city-sponsored dinner at Pebble Lake Golf Course.

Bob Kill shares an update on the ‘State of Manufacturing’

Enterprise Minnesota President and CEO Bob Kill provided the Thursday luncheon keynote address on the “State of Manufacturing” in Minnesota. During his presentation, he shared the results of a comprehensive survey of manufacturers across the state. The survey explored a wide range of issues such as confidence in the economy, the state’s business climate, future concerns and the prospects for business and job growth. You can read his full presentation here.

Legislative panel discusses the relationship between the state and local governments

One of the themes that emerged from the 2017 legislative session was the topic of local government control: what issues should be left to local governments to determine and when should the state step in? This topic was explored during a panel discussion featuring four state legislators who have all previously served as elected local government officials: Sen. Matt Little (DFL-Lakeville, former mayor of Lakeville), Sen. Paul Utke (R-Park Rapids, former Park Rapids City Council member), Rep. Cheryl Youakim (DFL-Hopkins, former Hopkins City Council member) and Rep. Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley, former mayor of Browns Valley).
 
In addition to the discussion local government control, it’s important to note that the legislators were asked about the prospects for a bonding bill in 2018. They all agreed that a bonding bill is likely to pass next year, with a size ranging between $800 million and $1.3 billion.

Presentation provides an update on the Minnesota Rural Equity Project

In 2016, the CGMC and our sister organization, the Greater Minnesota Partnership, joined forces with Growth & Justice and the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition on the Minnesota Rural Equity Project, an ambitious endeavor that aims to reduce economic and racial disparities both within Greater Minnesota and between Greater Minnesota and the metro area. Presenters Dane Smith, Anna Odegaard and Matt Schmit provided an update on the project’s accomplishments in 2017 and outlined potential issues that the project could focus on in the future, such as childcare, housing and workforce development.

State demographer stresses the importance of preparing for the 2020 Census

With the 2020 Census just around the corner, State Demographer Susan Brower provided a presentation about the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program and why it is critical to ensuring your city gets adequate state funding. She noted that the LUCA program is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for local governments to make sure the Census Bureau has a complete and accurate address list of all the housing units in your city before the 2020 Census forms are mailed. Brower provided information on why the program is important and how cities can participate. You can see her Power Point Presentation here and video of her presentation is available here.

CGMC elects 2017-18 officers

At the full membership meeting on Aug. 4, members elected a new slate of officers to lead the organization for the rest of the year and through the 2018 legislative session. The new officers are:

  • President – Dave Smiglewski, Mayor of Granite Falls
  • 1st Vice President – Ron Johnson, Bemidji City Councilor
  • 2nd Vice President – Audrey Nelsen, Willmar City Councilor
  • Secretary – Tom Stiehm, Mayor of Austin
  • Treasurer – Scott Hutchins, City of Moorhead

Smiglewski replaces Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson, who served as CGMC president for the previous year. We extend our gratitude to Mayor Carlson for being an excellent president over the past 12 months!

Exploring Fergus Falls

While the conference mainly focused on informational sessions, there were also several opportunities for attendees to have fun, mingle and explore the city of Fergus Falls. On Wednesday evening, the city hosted a rib dinner and live music at the city-owned Pebble Lake Golf Course. Later that evening, attendees belted out tunes during karaoke night at the conference hotel, the Country Inn & Suites.

On Thursday morning, attendees had their choice of one of four tours: a downtown walking tour, a “lakes & prairies” tour featuring stops at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center and Lake Alice, a bike tour along the Central Lakes Trail or golf at Pebble Lake Golf Course.

A special thanks to Fergus Falls Mayor Ben Schierer, City Administrator Andrew Bremseth, Jean Bowman at the Fergus Falls Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, city staff and the staff at the Bigwood Event Center/Country Inn & Suites for being excellent hosts!

Awards dinner honors legislators, city leaders

The capstone of the conference was a cocktail reception (hosted by sponsor Bolton & Menk) and awards dinner held Thursday evening. The dinner recognized 26 legislators, city officials and other leaders who were instrumental in advancing CGMC’s goals during the 2017 session. The full list of award winners can be found on the CGMC website.

Special thanks to our conference exhibitors!

We want to extend a special thank-you to our conference exhibitors, whose continued support of the CGMC helps us put on events like this. They are:

– Aiphone
– Apex Efficiency Solutions
– Apex Engineering Group
– Bolton & Menk, Inc.
– Commercial Recreation Specialists
– Community and Economic Development Associates
– Cooper’s Office Supply
– Ehlers
– Flaherty & Hood, P.A
– Four Seasons Energy Efficient Roofing
– Interstate Engineering
– Landmark Environmental, LLC
– LJA
– Miller Architecture Inc. 
– Moore Engineering Inc. 
– National Insurance Services
– National Joint Powers Alliance
– NFP
– Northland Securities Inc.
– PFM Financial Advisors LLC
– PMA Financial Network
– Springsted Incorporated
– SwedeBro
– Widseth Smith Nolting
– WSB

The  CGMC honored 26 legislators and city leaders at our annual 2017 Legislative Awards Dinner, which was held Aug. 3 in Fergus Falls. A copy of the awards program handed out at the event can be found here. Click on the award recipients’ name to read a press release that outlines their accomplishments over the past year.

Legislator of Distinction- Tax Policy

Legislator of Distinction- Economic Development

Legislator of Distinction- Environment

Legislator of Distinction- Annexation

Legislator of Distinction- Transportation

First-Term Legislator of the Year – Awarded to legislators who are currently in serving their first-term and who were particularly helpful in advancing CGMC priorities during the preceding session.

Rural Leadership Award – Awarded to legislators who helped advance CGMC priorities in several program areas during the preceding session.

Minnesota Legacy Award – Awarded—upon their retirement—to legislators who have demonstrated unfailing commitment and made extraordinary contributions to Greater Minnesota during their legislative careers.

  • Sen. Lyle Koenen (DFL-Clara City)            
  • Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook)

Excellence in Service (elected officials) – Awarded to CGMC elected officials who demonstrated knowledge, leadership and active participation in CGMC program areas over the preceding session and/or an extended period of time.

Excellence in Service (city staff) – Awarded to CGMC city managers/administrators or city staff who demonstrated knowledge, leadership and active participation in CGMC program areas over the preceding session and/or an extended period of time.

Jack Murray Award for Distinguished Rural Leadership (retiring elected officials) – Awarded—upon their retirement from public service—to CGMC mayors and elected officials who have made special contributions to the CGMC over a multi-year career. The award is named after Jack Murray, former mayor of International Falls, who was instrumental in the CGMC’s formation.

Bob Filson Award for Distinguished Rural Leadership (retiring staff) – Awarded—upon their retirement from public service—to CGMC city managers/administrators or key staff members who made special contributions to the CGMC over a multi-year career. The award is named after Bob Filson, former city manager of Worthington, who showed consistent and relentless dedication to whatever mattered to the CGMC and its members.

Friend of the CGMC – Awarded to individuals (not legislators or CGMC city officials) or organizations who have helped advance CGMC priorities and/or made important contributions to Greater Minnesota.

President’s Award – Awarded to the outgoing CGMC president.