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April 9, 2009     Tri-County News
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April 9, 2009
 

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Pa00e 12 LoCals Fz ...... - Thursday, April 9, 2009 ,ay--lr]ll l]. L Tri-Coun News mball,4 Kimball looks at stimulus money; renews, revises employee benefits FiSChbaCh By Jean Doran Matua, Editor $13,000 a year. Minnesota State Senator The Kimball city council held The city council will take a Wk in review: 3/30 - 4/3 its regular meeting at the Kimball "nuissance tour" of the city Mon ................. day evening, April 13. Those in vio- lation of city ordinances will get letters from the city. The city may be eligible for grant/loan stimulus money through the USDA. They discussed how such money could be used (street repairs, water tower paint- ing, truck purchase), but no deci- sions were made. It could amount to $2 million, with 45 percent being a government grant and 55 percent to be paid by taxpayers. Work is being done feverishly this week to complete interior renova- tions to Kimball City Hall in time to reopen the library Monday, April 13. In the photo above, the origi- nal tin ceiling is visible (it will be painted); the wall, scarred by re- moval of the false ceiling, will be repaired. New heating and cooling is being installed this week as well. Staff photo by Jean Doran Matua. With a few exceptions, it seemed a slower week at the Capitol on the surface, but this week we started the transition from the barrage of policy ideas to budget work in ear- nest. General tax talk continued and many committees are start- ing to assemble their big funding bills. Next week will be quiet at the Capitol with the Easter/Passover break. Education budget One of the first omnibus bud- get bills getting attention is edu- cation funding. Senate DFLers announced last month that their approach to solving the state&apos;s $4.6 billion budget hole wasn't to do some fine tuning around the state's top priorities, but rather to take an axe and chop 7 percent across the board. The planwould amount to about a billion-dollar cut to schools, and as it is written, affects some dis- tricts more deeply than others. Fortunately, some federal sta- bilization funds are available to plug into the gaping holes the Sen- ate Democrat plan creates. The bill also includes tighter rules for charter schools, a cap on spend- ing for school integration aid, the elimination of some school man- dates and the return of a statewide school property tax that hasn't existed for over five years to raise $550 million for the FY12-13 bien- nium: It could make its way to the full Senate early next week. Green Acres Last week, a joint House-Senate conference committee reached an agreement that addresses many of the concerns of farmers and land owners on a pressing property tax issue. I would have preferred a complete repeal of the changes enacted last year. The following provisions were included in the agreement: Amends the provision that land may be withdrawn from Green Acres between May 29, 2008 and January 1, 2010 without repayment of additional taxes, is extended to May 1, 2010 and also is effective retroactively. This ret- roactivity clarifies that those who took action last year would be eli- gible for a tax refund. Modifies the CRP provision. The Senate provision allowed all CRP and RIM land into Green Acres. HF 392 allows CRP or RIM land that was in agricultural use at the time it was enrolled in the con- servation program. RIM land is not allowed into Green Acres if it is subject to a perpetual easement. Makes the Department of Revenue the final arbiter of dis- putes over approval of conserva- tion management plan approvals. Identifies technical transfers that don't trigger a change in own- ership, and a subsequent loss of Green Acres benefits. Renames the new "Land Con- servation" program as the "Rural Preserve" program. Specifies that no more than 50 percent of the total acreage enrolled may be class 2b (rural vacant land) property. This clar- ifies how much can be enrolled in the rural preserve program. It doesn't disqualify participation in Green Acres if the parcel has more than 50 percent 2b property. Accepted a House amendment that lengthened the minimum term of enrolling in the Rural Pre- serve program from 8 to 10 years. After the land has been enrolled in the program for at least five years, the covenant may be terminated by giving five years notice of the proposed termination. Lifting the nuclear ban A floor amendment earned approval, as the Minnesota Senate this week took the first step toward achieving real energy indepen- dence and renewable fuel goals by approving an end to Minneso- Area Fire Hall because of interior demolition in City Hall. (The orig- inal tin ceiling is being restored, new heating and cooling sys- tems installed, and new lighting installed.) This work was com- pressed into one week in order to minimize down time for the library which is housed in City Hall. The city's new auditor, Doug Host from LarsonAllen, came to discuss the city's capital assets statement and a threshold pol- icy; one was set. He noted that the groundwork for this year's audit, with the new firm, was completed in a record one week. He com- mended everyone involved for helping to make it a smooth tran- sition. Minnesota Benefit Advisors came to discuss the city's renewal of insurance benefits for employ- ees. With an 89-percent loss ratio (usage by Kimball employees), and an industry-wide inflation rate of 12 percent, the city will have a 15.45-percent increase in the cost of health insurance for its employ- ees. After much discussion, it was decided that it would be better to keep the current level of benefits (which is quite good), and ask the five full-time employees enrolled in the program to pay the differ- ence. Three of the five employees involved were present at the meet- ing and agreed that this would be better than reducing the benefits or increasing deductibles. It has yet to be determined how the cost increase will be divided among the employees, as some have fam- ily plans and others do not. Police chief Jim Frilstad dis- cussed the possibility of state lim- its on administrative tickets. Cur- rently Kimball issues administra- tive tickets at $115. The state may impose a limit of $60, with one- third going to the state. This could mean a loss to the city of about ta's 15-year ban on new nuclear power plants. Minnesota receives most of its electricity from coal- fired power plants, but bi-partisan advocates have said that adding nuclear power to a mix of renew- able sources will help curb green- house gases to meet mandates like the state's 2007 Next Generation (NextGen) EnergyAct. This does not constitute the approval of new nuclear plants, but rather opens the door slightly so that we may include this one key component in future discus- sions of energy needs and goals. The vote is a preliminary approval of an omnibus energy policy bill. The Senate will give the bill a final vote in the coming week, but the issue faces an uphill battle in the House after a committee last week rejected a similar bill after hours of heated discussion. Transportation stimulus Governor Pawlenty has signed a bill that gives the Minnesota Department of Transportation the go-ahead to seek and spend federal stimulus dollars on roads, bridges and transit projects. While current law prohibits the depart- ment from spending money with- out legislative approval, the new law authorizes them to spend the one-time $600 million federal stimulus money. Shared services mandate A bill that places a mandate on all school systems statewide to use service cooperatives, regional cen- ters, intermediate school districts or the state's cooperative purchasing agreement for goods and services to purchase all of their business services and goods will probably be voted on by the full Senate this Monday. The many opponents in the Minnesota educational system cite opposition at being mandated to make joint purchases because widespread voluntary action is already occurring and is flexible. Senator Michelle Fischbach is serv- ing in her fifth term in the Minnesota Senate. She encourages and appreciates constituent input and can be reached at (651) 296-2084, by mail to 145 State Office Building / St. Paul, MN 55155 or via e-mail at <sen.michelle.fischbach @ senate.ran>. 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