The Minnesota Legislature’s failure to pass a bonding bill this session means several Rice County projects won’t move forward with state bonding money this year.
Plans for a $500 million bonding bill, part of an overall agreement announced May 19 between Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, House Majority Leader Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka did not come together amid partisan disagreements.
Rice County projects that will not receive state funding this year include more than $13.2 million for Minnesota State Academies in Faribault, which would have been split into three categories: Minnesota State Academy for the Blind dormitories, asset preservation funds and the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf security corridor.
The State Academy for the Deaf had security requests totaling $5.3 million. It had wanted to add an enclosed security corridor to connect the three main educational buildings and a controlled and monitored entry, among other things.
The Faribault-based schools for the blind and deaf are funded solely through yearly money from the state Legislature and Minnesota Department of Education.
Minnesota State Academies Superintendent Terry Wildling said local representatives told him Friday that they had a chance of at least getting one or two projects approved this year.
“None of our projects got in, and I’m not sure why,” he said. “But we’ll try again next year.”
To Wildling, the school needs to ensure current buildings are safely accessible for students as they await state funding.
He expressed concern that because of state inaction, the projects, which could cost an estimated 10 percent more next year due to inflation and other cost increases, may result in the need for more public funding.
Walz’s bonding proposal included the full $13.2 million for the two academies.
District 24B Rep. Brian Daniels, R-Faribault, said although he was OK with no bonding bill this session because of it being considered a non-bonding year, he took issue with what he said was the failure of DFLers to include House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt on bonding discussions until the final day of the session.
“It just never came together,” Daniels said. “They never started the process soon enough to get a serious offer on the table.”
He said the Minnesota State Academies’ request likely would have been included with any bonding bill based on legislative support.
Daniels said there is always a chance any proposed bonding bill introduced next year falters, but he described himself as “somewhat confident” a bonding bill will pass in 2020.
A pair of projects
The city of Northfield had two $2.5 million bonding requests. One would have been for the construction of a transit hub and the other would have created a pedestrian underpass at the intersection of Jefferson Boulevard and Highway 246, where a roundabout will be constructed.
Northfield City Administrator Ben Martig said the underpass project to connect with the Mill Towns Trail was the most time-sensitive bonding request because the city already has Minnesota Department of Transportation funding to pay for a substantial percentage of roundabout work in connection with the project.
“We just lose that opportunity for state capital bond funding for that project,” he said.
The city still plans to proceed with the project without state bonding dollars and is looking for funding alternatives. Martig said state aid could be used, or more of the cost might shift more to local taxpayers.
Despite being disappointed the underpass was not funded with the city’s small available timeframe for construction, Martig said he was not surprised, because this year was a budget year at the Capitol.
“In some sense, we were hoping for the best, but we weren’t overly expecting to get the funding for it,” he said.
The city is requesting bonding dollars for the transit hub project in the 2020 session. In addition, the city will seek funding for an on-site pavilion.
Bonding dollars for the Northfield transit hub location would have allowed the city to acquire property and prepare the site, design, construct, furnish and equip the regional hub.
The regional transit hub is expected to include six parking stalls adjacent to the transit station, with three handicapped-accessible. Nine parking stalls are planned along the access road and an estimated 36 in the two proposed parking areas owned by the city.
The city still plans to build the access road soon because it has $350,000 in tax increment financing funds to cover the $300,000 expected development cost.
Martig said city staff were expected to ask the council to authorize funding to develop the access road to the proposed hub at the June 4 City Council meeting. Until state dollars are secured, the city plans to develop the transit hub piecemeal.