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Property Taxes

Below is a column by CGMC President and Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson. It has appeared in the Star Tribune, Winona Daily News, Bemidji Pioneer and other newspapers.

“I am preaching to the choir but what I’m asking is for the choir to sing loudly for the next three months.”

Gov. Tim Walz was touting his plan to boost Local Government Aid funding when he said this at a Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) event earlier this year. He told the audience of Greater Minnesota city officials that while he was planning to include a $30.5 million LGA increase in his then-unreleased budget, he was going to need our help to get the proposal across the finish line.

As a Bemidji city councilor and president of the CGMC, I am a proud member of LGA “choir.” I have been warming up my voice and now — with the halfway-point of the legislative session fast approaching — I’m ready to sing.

The average Minnesotan likely knows little about LGA, but it is a key reason why Minnesota consistently boasts a stronger economy and better quality of life than neighboring states. Created in 1971, the LGA program distributes aid to cities using a formula that compares a city’s property tax base to its needs. Its purpose is to ensure that all cities are able to provide a similar level of services regardless of the strength of their tax base. For some cities, LGA constitutes nearly half of their annual budget.

As the Legislature debates the merits of Gov. Walz’s budget proposal and the House and Senate craft budgets of their own, I urge lawmakers to keep the $30.5 million LGA increase in their plans. Here’s why:

LGA benefits all Minnesotans. Approximately 90 percent of Minnesota cities receive LGA — from tiny rural towns to the largest cities. It helps narrow disparities between communities so that every city can provide important services and amenities like public safety, libraries, parks and plowed streets. If you live, work, go to school, visit the doctor or shop in a Minnesota city, chances are you benefit from LGA.

LGA has not kept up with rising costs. The proposed $30.5 million increase would bring LGA funding back to its 2002 highpoint, not counting for inflation. In the ensuing years, costs have gone up for everything from employee health insurance to construction materials. When there is record-breaking snowfall, we can’t leave the streets unplowed. If there is a fire, we need equipment and trained firefighters to put it out. City officials make tough financial decisions every day, but needs do not go away. That struggle is even harder when LGA is underfunded.

LGA helps restrain property taxes. Without LGA, the average city receiving aid would have to increase its property tax rate by more than 65 percent in order to continue to provide the same level of services. LGA also has a proven track record of helping slow the growth of city levies. From 2013 to 2014, the last time there was a significant LGA increase, many communities kept their levies flat or even reduced them.

LGA has bipartisan support. Republican and Democrat legislators have teamed up to sponsor legislation to increase LGA, and their bills have support from rural and urban legislators on both sides of the aisle. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, a Republican, has also voiced support for LGA. In a time when nearly everything has become uber-political, lawmakers should embrace this opportunity to find common ground.

LGA is a small investment with a big payoff. LGA currently represents less than 3 percent of the state budget. The proposed $30.5 million increase is just a fraction of the Governor’s budget proposal. It is a relatively small price to pay to boost a program that has a tremendous impact on cities across the state.

City officials in the 758 Minnesota cities that receive LGA can attest to the integral role it plays in keeping our communities afloat and our state strong. As legislators and the Governor continue the daunting task of creating the state budget, I hope they keep the health and prosperity of our cities in mind by including the $30.5 million LGA increase in the final product.

Local Government Aid (LGA) was the focus of a hearing in the House Local and Property Tax Division on Monday. The CGMC’s two LGA bills, HF 1101 and HF 1102 were on the agenda. Both bills increase the LGA appropriation by $30.5 million and make updates to the formula multipliers. HF 1101 would also peg the LGA appropriation to inflation and population growth so that the appropriation continues to grow over time.

Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora) is the chief author of HF 1102 and spoke to the important role LGA plays in addressing inequities in property tax wealth across Minnesota and how the CGMC’s proposal would improve the long-term stability of the program. He drew on his experience as the former mayor of Aurora and a long-time city councilor. Rep. Lislegard was joined by Eveleth City Councilor Brad Hadrava who told legislators about the rising constructions costs the city faces and how increased LGA will help the city continue its efforts to preserve aging public buildings and address the need for capital improvements.

HF 1101 is sponsored by Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter). At the hearing, he discussed his experience as a city councilor in St. Peter, telling his colleagues that St. Peter used a small increase in LGA to purchase a new tire balancer for the public works department, but that in order for the city to address critical needs funding for LGA must be restored. CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson testified on the annual inflation and population adjustment contained in HF 1101, citing increases in health insurance costs, population growth and an overall steady rise in city costs to underscore the need for LGA to keep pace with inflation.

The division approved both CGMC bills for consideration in a later division report that will be included in the House’s final omnibus tax bill. The two bills were among five before the division that would increase the LGA appropriation by $30.5 million. The division also heard from the Department of Revenue about the restoration of LGA funding in Gov. Walz’s proposed budget.  You can listen to the full Division hearing by clicking this link.

For Immediate Release
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com
PDF version

Below is a statement from CGMC President and Bemidji City Council Member Ron Johnson on Governor Tim Walz’s budget proposal:

“The Governor’s budget proposal makes key investments that will go a long way toward strengthening Greater Minnesota communities.

“City leaders have long been seeking to bring the LGA program back up to its 2002 high-water mark, and the Governor’s proposal would finally get us there. We’re grateful that Gov. Walz recognizes the vital role LGA plays in making sure that all Minnesota communities can continue to provide the same great opportunities to work, raise a family and start a business. We’re hopeful the Legislature will follow the Governor’s lead to restore funding for this critical program.

“I also want to thank the Governor for acknowledging other important issues that impact Greater Minnesota. Not a day goes by when I don’t hear from a constituent about the need for better roads, so it’s encouraging that Gov. Walz is exploring ways to put additional revenue into our state transportation system. Child care is another issue that in recent years has emerged as one of the top impediments to economic growth in rural communities. I’m glad to see that the Governor’s budget plan includes funding to help address this need.

“I look forward to joining other city officials to work with Gov. Walz, legislative leaders and our local legislators to make sure that Greater Minnesota’s priorities continue to be a major focal point of discussions and are hopefully included the final budget.”

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Although many people understandably canceled their registrations due to the subzero temperatures and icy road conditions, more than 50 city leaders from across the state still made the trek to St. Paul for Legislative Action Day on Wednesday. Thank you to everyone who helped make our annual “day at the Capitol” a success!
 
The day kicked off with a welcome from CGMC President and Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson and a legislative update from CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson, followed by presentations on our top issues (LGA, water infrastructure, child care, the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure Grant Program and transportation) by CGMC staff.
 
After the crowd enjoyed lunch and listened to Gov. Walz’s speech, they spent the rest of the afternoon meeting with legislators. Although much of the state was shut down due to the weather, offices at the State Capitol remained open. The cancellation of most of the legislative committee hearings that day ended up working out in our favor as CGMC members were able to get more time than usual to talk to their legislators about important issues. A copy of the lobbying packet that was given to CGMC members and shared with legislators can be found here.
 
As is CGMC tradition, the day was capped off with a legislative reception and dinner at Mancini’s, where a bipartisan mix of more than 70 legislators representing both rural and urban districts mingled with CGMC members over a meal of steak or walleye.
 
You can see more photos from Legislative Action Day here.

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

Below is statement from CGMC President and Bemidji City Council Member Ron Johnson regarding today’s announcement that Minnesota’s budget surplus has increased to $1.5 billion:

“With the state clearly on solid financial footing, I’m hopeful that Governor-elect Walz and the new Legislature will seize this opportunity to strengthen communities across the state by increasing Local Government Aid. City leaders in Greater Minnesota were encouraged that Walz frequently campaigned on the idea of boosting LGA, and this new budget forecast will allow him to make good on that promise.

“The CGMC’s top priority for the upcoming legislative session is a $30.5 million LGA increase, which is the amount needed to bring the program back up to its 2002 high-water mark. LGA is the most important state program to help cities restrain property taxes and afford essential services like public safety, libraries and snow removal. As city officials, we try our best to craft responsible budgets, but it has been a struggle in recent years as LGA funding has failed to keep pace with rising costs. We are eager to work with Walz and the new Legislature to make an LGA increase a reality this session.”

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The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 97 cities outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The Coalition educates legislators about issues important to Greater Minnesota. Visit the CGMC online at greatermncities.org and follow us on Twitter @greatermncities.

Thank you to everyone who attended the CGMC Fall Conference last week at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center. More than 100 city leaders representing 50 cities attended the conference — setting an attendance record for the second straight year!

The conference kicked off Thursday afternoon with a presentation by Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, who shared insights into his past eight years as a member of Gov. Dayton’s administration and the ups and downs our state budget faced during that time. He also provided information on the state’s current economic outlook and what could be in store for the budget in the near future. You can read Frans’ presentation here.
 
Following Frans’ presentation, we delved into a panel discussion on the rural/urban divide and the role city leaders can play in helping to bridge the gaps between the various and diverse communities in Minnesota. Panelists included Ben Schierer, mayor of Fergus Falls; Suzanne Hilgert, mayor of Olivia; Peter Lindstrom, mayor of Falcon Heights, and Brad Tabke, former mayor of Shakopee and a newly elected state representative. The panelists shared examples of ways they have learned from leaders in other parts of the state and discussed the issues in which they wish there was better understanding between rural and urban communities. Conference attendees also participated in small group discussions where they brainstormed ideas on steps they can take within their cities to help bridge the rural/urban divide.
 
With the conference being held just a little over a week after the midterm elections, it would not have been complete with a good ‘ole CGMC election recap. CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson provided in-depth analysis of the 2018 election results — particularly the race for governor and the Minnesota House — and what they could mean for CGMC priorities and other issues in the upcoming legislative session. You can read Bradley’s presentation here.  
 
After the election analysis, we welcomed several legislators for a panel discussion on one of the most critical issues currently impacting Greater Minnesota: the child care shortage. Nicole Griensewic Mickelson, executive director of Region Nine Development Commission and president of the Greater Minnesota Partnership, moderated the discussion featuring Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), Sen. Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks), Sen. Erik Simonson (DFL-Duluth) and Rep. Joe Schomacker (R-Luverne). You can watch video of the discussion here.
 
Annexation is another important topic explored at the conference. CGMC lobbyist Elizabeth Wefel informed attendees about some looming concerns, particularly the possibility that the CGMC and cities may need to play defense on legislation being proposed by township groups that could thwart cities’ ability to pursue annexations. You can read Elizabeth’s Power Point presentation here.
 
In the evening, attendees enjoyed a cocktail reception and dinner followed by an excellent presentation by Emmy-award winning reporter Tom Hauser of ABC 5 Eyewitness News. A veteran political reporter, Hauser shared his take on the national and state election results and some of the issues that could be on the horizon in the future.
 
Friday morning kicked off with a presentation/discussion led by Brandon Fitzsimmons, a labor and employment attorney with Flaherty & Hood, on how to effectively evaluate the performance of city administrators and managers. Waite Park City Administrator Shaunna Johnson and Mayor Rick Miller shared their stories on this issue and provided advice on how to help performance evaluations run smoothly. You can read Brandon’s Power Point presentation here.

In addition to speakers and presentations, the conference also included a membership meeting Friday morning during which members discussed and adopted the CGMC’s 2019 legislative policy positions. To review the adopted positions, click on the following subject areas:

Members also discussed the CGMC’s legislative priorities for 2019 and learned about our initial messaging and strategy plans for the upcoming legislative session.

Thanks again to everyone who attended our 2018 Fall Conference. We look forward to seeing you again at our next CGMC event – Legislative Action Day on Jan. 30 in St. Paul. We will send out registration information for Legislative Action Day soon!

Thank you to everyone who attended the CGMC Fall Conference last week at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center. More than 100 city leaders representing 50 cities attended the conference — a record attendance!

The conference kicked off Thursday afternoon with a presentation by Marnie Werner, acting director of the Center for Rural Policy, on their study titled “A Quiet Crisis: Minnesota’s Child Care Shortage.” You can watch video of her presentation here and read her Power Point presentation here.

After Werner’s presentation, we delved further into the issues surrounding Greater Minnesota’s child care shortage with a panel discussion featuring Nancy Jost, early childhood coordinator for West Central Initiative; Tim Penny, president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation; Jessica Beyer, business development specialist for First Children’s Finance; and Amanda Benda, director of Little Huskies Daycare Center & Preschool in Jackson, Minn. The discussion was moderated by Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership. Each panelist provided a unique perspective on the issue and offered suggestions on ways city leaders can be more involved in developing solutions. You can watch the panel discussion here.

Broadband was also an important topic at the conference. Bill Coleman, president of Community Technology Advisors and a consultant for the Blandin Foundation, informed attendees about where broadband access stands in Greater Minnesota and outlined the economic impact of world-class broadband infrastructure. You can watch Coleman’s presentation here and read his Power Point Presentation here.
After Coleman’s presentation, CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson moderated a legislative panel discussion featuring Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), Rep. Ben Lien (DFL-Moorhead) and Rep. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville). The panelists discussed the impact of the 2017 legislative session and plans for 2018. The conversation touched on issues such as transportation, bonding and the ongoing lawsuit between the Legislature and Gov. Dayton.

The afternoon was capped by another panel discussion, this one on the role of elected officials in labor and employee relations. Brandon Fitzsimmons, an attorney with Flaherty & Hood, moderated a discussion featuring Waite Park City Administrator Shaunna Johnson, Alexandria City Administrator Marty Schultz and Moorhead City Manager Chris Volkers in which they talked about the “productive” and “unproductive” involvement of elected officials in dealing with unions and personnel issues.

In the evening, attendees enjoyed a cocktail reception and dinner followed by an entertaining and informative quiz show led by the award-winning Theater of Public Policy. During the show, three teams squared off against each other in a battle to see who knew the most about random Greater Minnesota trivia, the history of LGA and other various topics. To the audience’s surprise, Team Lobbyist (Flaherty & Hood lobbyists Tim Flaherty and Marty Seifert) ultimately bested Team Mayor (Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski and Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson) and Team Administrator (Slayton City Administrator Josh Malchow and Virginia City Administration Britt See-Benes) to take the quiz show crown.

In addition to speakers and presentations, the conference also included a membership meeting on Friday morning during which members discussed and adopted the CGMC’s 2018 legislative policy positions. To review the adopted positions, click on the following subject areas: Annexation & Land Use, Economic Development, Environment & Energy, LGA & Property Taxes and Transportation. You can also read more about the top priorities for the upcoming legislative in this CGMC Press Release that was sent to the media at the conclusion of the conference.

Thanks again to everyone who attended our 2017 Fall Conference! Please check out the photo gallery on our Facebook page to see pictures from the conference.

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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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.

With mere hours to go until tonight’s midnight deadline, the Minnesota Legislature is hard at work trying to negotiate and pass a state budget and other key pieces of legislation. At this point it appears we are likely headed for a short special session to complete the state budget.

Legislators were holed up in St. Paul over the weekend and managed to pass a few budget bills out of the House and Senate, including the environment and jobs bills. A number of bills are still on the agenda for today including taxes, transportation and bonding.

Since most of the negotiations have been going on behind closed doors – leaving the public, the media and lobbyists out of the legislative process — we have little indication of what will be included in the final bills.

If you have not done so already, now would be an excellent time to respond to this CGMC Action Alert by contacting your legislators and Gov. Dayton to urge them to include a significant increase in Local Government Aid in the final tax bill.

The environmental bill is one of the few bills that passed on Sunday and is now expected to be signed into law by the Governor. Unfortunately, due to continuing opposition from the Governor and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, many of the significant environmental reforms sought by the CGMC were stripped from the final bill, including our call for independent peer review of proposed rules and a prohibition against the enforcement of unadopted rules. On the plus side, the bill includes our request to extend the public comment period for new city permits to 60 days (up from 30 days) and also includes some policy changes regarding the Impaired Waters List.

As for the jobs bills, which passed early this morning and is also expected to be signed by the Governor, it contains several priorities that are important to rural communities:

  • The Job Training Incentive Program is funded at $2.7 million per biennium for 218-19 and 2020-21
  • The Border-to-Border Broadband Broadband Development Grant Program is funded at $20 million
  • A workforce housing grant program within the Minnesota Housing Finance Authority will receive $4 million per biennium for 2018-19 and 2020-21
  • The Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure program (BDPI) gets $1 million for the 2018-19 biennium (excluding a $1.6 million earmark in FY 18) and approximately $3.6 million for the 2020-21 biennium. The BDPI program is funded in the proposed bonding bill as well.
  • The Minnesota Investment Fund is funded at $25 million per biennium for 2018-19 and 2020-21
  • The Job Creation Fund receives $17 million for the 2018-19 biennium and $16 million for the 2020-21 biennium

For updates as this final day of session proceeds, please follow us on Twitter (@greatermncities), Facebook and our website (greatermncities.org.)