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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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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.

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.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities would like to extend a big thank-you to the 25 businesses and organizations who exhibited at our Summer Conference in Fergus Falls on Aug. 3:

– 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 is excited to welcome Bob Kill, CEO of Enterprise Minnesota, as the keynote speaker at the CGMC Summer Conference at noon on Thursday, Aug. 3. He will provide an update on the health of manufacturing statewide and how manufacturers in different regions of Minnesota view current and future prospects for their industries.
 
Kill, a long-time manufacturing executive and well-known spokesperson for Minnesota’s manufacturing industry, is regularly quoted in national and regional media on manufacturing trends and industry outlook. He has appeared before the Minnesota State Legislature and the U.S. Congress emphasizing the high value of manufacturing to our economy. He received national recognition in 2010 by the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NIST/MEP) , as Group Innovator, for the State of Manufacturing strategy. In 2011, he was recognized by Twin Cities Business Magazine as “one of 200 Minnesotans you should know.”

The CGMC Summer Conference will be held Aug. 2-4 at the Bigwood Event Center in Fergus Falls. The full conference schedule can be found here.

We are now less than a month away from the CGMC Summer Conference in Fergus Falls!

Thank you to everyone who has already registered. For those who have not yet booked a hotel room for the conference, please note that the Country Inn & Suites has agreed to extend the deadline to book a room under our discounted rate of $99.99 until Monday, July 10. After that date, the cost will go up the regular rate. We strongly encourage you to book a room ASAP so that you can take advantage of this lower price. Call the hotel at 218-739-2211 to make a reservation.

The Summer Conference will be held Aug. 2-4, 2017 at the Bigwood Event Center in Fergus Falls. To register, please fill out this registration form and submit it via email (RSVP@flaherty-hood.com), fax (651-225-9088) or mail (Coalition of Greater MN Cities, c/o Dana Johnston, 525 Park St., Suite 470, St. Paul, MN 55103).

You can view the full conference agenda here. Some of the highlights include:

  • A recap of the legislative session and how its results will impact your community
  • A panel discussion featuring state legislators who formerly served in local government
  • A keynote luncheon on “The State of Manufacturing” by Bob Kill, CEO of Enterprise Minnesota
  • Presentations and interactive discussions about how rural communities across the nation are utilizing the arts to drive their local economies
  • A panel discussion featuring journalists who cover the MN Legislature
  • Opportunities to explore the city of Fergus Falls during a city-sponsored dinner and by taking part in one of four city-tour options
  • …and much more!

If you have any questions about the CGMC Summer Conference, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1917. We hope you’ll join us in Fergus Falls!

The annual CGMC Summer Conference will be held Aug. 2-4, 2017 at the Bigwood Event Center in Fergus Falls. During the three-day conference attendees will:

  • Find out how the results of the 2017 legislative session will impact your community
  • Hear legislators’ insights about the ever-evolving relationship between state and local governments
  • See how rural communities are using art as an economic driver and learn about ways your city can take advantage of similar opportunities
  • Enjoy a panel discussion in which members of the MN Capitol Press Corps will discuss the joys and challenges of covering the “legislative circus”
  • Explore the city of Fergus Falls during a city-sponsored dinner and by taking part in one of four city-tour options
  • Learn about new services, businesses and organizations at the exhibitors’ tradeshow
  • Forge connections with other city leaders from across Greater Minnesota by sharing your ideas, concerns and hopes for the future
  • … and much more!

To register for the conference, please fill out this registration form and submit it via email (RSVP@flaherty-hood.com), fax (651-225-9088) or mail (Coalition of Greater MN Cities, c/o Dana Johnston, 525 Park St., Suite 470, St. Paul, MN 55103). You can view the conference agenda here. Please register by July 24. Please note that the CGMC has a block of rooms reserved at the Country Inn & Suites, which is adjacent to the event center, at a discounted rate of $99.99 (plus tax). The deadline to book a room under the reduced rate is July 2. Call the hotel at 218-739-2211 to make a reservation. If you have any questions about the CGMC Summer Conference, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1917.

We have a great conference lined up! The annual CGMC Summer Conference will be held Aug. 2-4, 2017 at the Bigwood Event Center in Fergus Falls. During the conference you will:

  • Learn about emerging trends and challenges facing Greater Minnesota communities
  • Find out how the results of the 2017 legislative session could impact your community
  • Hear legislators’ insights about the ever-evolving relationship between state and local governments
  • Explore the city of Fergus Falls during a city-sponsored dinner and by taking part in one of four city-tour options
  • Learn about new services, businesses and organizations at the exhibitors’ tradeshow
  • Forge connections with other city leaders from across Greater Minnesota by sharing your ideas, concerns and hopes for the future

To register for the conference, please fill out this registration form and email it to RSVP@flaherty-hood.com or mail it to the address listed on the form. A full agenda will be available soon.

Please note that the CGMC has a block of rooms reserved at the Country Inn & Suites, which is adjacent to the event center, at a discounted rate of $99.99 (plus tax). The deadline to book a room under the reduced rate is July 2. Call the hotel at 218-739-2211 to make a reservation.

If you have any questions about the CGMC Summer Conference, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1917. We hope to see you there!

For Immediate Release: May 11, 2017
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com

A PDF version of this press release is available here.

ST. PAUL—With the session deadline looming and little progress thus far on key legislative priorities for rural communities, Greater Minnesota city leaders held a press conference today to caution legislators against repeating last year’s failures on taxes, bonding and transportation.

“Exactly one year ago today, we held a press conference urging legislators to pass an increase in Local Government Aid, a fair and balanced bonding bill and a transportation bill that funds city streets and the Corridors of Commerce program,” said Sara Carlson, Mayor of Alexandria and President of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “Here we are 365 days later and we are still asking for the same things. What does it take for Greater Minnesota’s needs to be addressed?”

Carlson said that rural Minnesota voters sent a strong message in the November election that their needs and concerns had been ignored for too long. At the start of the session, many city leaders were hopeful that Greater Minnesota issues would get more attention this year since rural legislators make up the majority of the Republican caucus in both the House and Senate. However, with less than two weeks left in the session, serious questions remain about the Legislature’s willingness to invest in rural priorities.

At the top of that list is an increase in Local Government Aid (LGA), the state program that provides property tax relief and allows cities of all sizes to have a similar level of services regardless of their wealth. Nearly 96 percent of Greater Minnesota cities, and 89 percent of cities statewide, receive LGA.

The CGMC is seeking a permanent $45.5 million increase in LGA funding, the amount needed to bring the program back to its 2002 level. The joint House and Senate tax bill doesn’t come close to this benchmark — it includes just a $6 million one-time increase for 2018. Under the bill, LGA would revert back to the 2017 funding level the following year.

“The Legislature’s tax bill fails on LGA,” Carlson said. “No state program does more to improve the quality of life and economic competitiveness of Greater Minnesota communities than LGA. I am perplexed as to why our legislators are not investing more into the program.”

Carlson noted that Gov. Dayton has already pledged to veto the tax bill, a decision the CGMC supports. “The Governor should demand a significant and permanent LGA increase in the final tax bill,” she said.

City leaders are also united in their support for a bonding bill this session. For Greater Minnesota cities, the most critical item in this bill is additional money for grant and loan programs that provide funding for wastewater infrastructure.

There is broad bipartisan support for this funding: the Governor’s bonding proposal includes $167 million, while the Senate bill has $133 million and the House bill has $105 million. However, with vastly different ideas about the overall size of the bonding bill — the House bill totals only $600 million, while the Governor’s plan is nearly $1.5 billion — passing a bill could be difficult.

“We cannot wait another year for a bonding bill,” said Austin City Administrator Craig Clark.  “Like many cities in Greater Minnesota, we are facing massive costs to repair and upgrade our water treatment facilities. If we don’t receive more financial help, cities have no choice but to pass those costs onto our residents and businesses.”

Another long-standing area of concern is transportation. Although city officials want the state to invest more in transportation — particularly city streets and the Corridors of Commerce program — they cautioned the Legislature and Governor against relying too heavily on the general fund.

“Taking too much general fund money for transportation could have a harmful effect on other important priorities like LGA, education and public safety,” said Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski. “A smart transportation plan that looks out for the long-term success of our state should include a mix of new revenue along with a modest amount of general fund dollars.”

In the waning days of session, the city leaders said they plan to be in frequent contact with their local legislators and other key lawmakers to encourage them to take action on key Greater Minnesota priorities.

“No one wants a repeat of last year,” Smiglewski said, referring to the last-minute failure of several key bills. “Luckily, there is still time for our legislators to make this session a ‘win’ for Greater Minnesota.”

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