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Rugg coordinates Master Gardener programs in both Rice, Steele counties
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If Rice and Steele County residents have questions about trees, plants or garden pests, Lorrie Rugg likely has an answer.

“I love gardening, plain and simple,” Rugg said. “It’s truly my passion. I like helping people, steering the ship in both counties. It’s really rewarding to see both programs growing and thriving.”

The Steele County Master Gardener program coordinator since January 2020, Rugg took on the same role in Rice County this month. She replaced the former program coordinator in Rice County, Barbara Montanye, who retired after five years in the position. A Master Gardener volunteer for the past 20 years, Rugg now contributes three to five hours a week to Rice County and eight hours a week to Steele County.

“Lorrie’s experience and passion for gardening really shows in all the work she does, and she approaches her role as a Master Gardener volunteer and Master Gardener program coordinator with great enthusiasm,” said Claire LeCanne, University of Minnesota Extension educator. “Over the past year in her role as program coordinator in Steele County, she’s helped the group secure several grants to help with initiatives in community gardens in Owatonna.”

In Steele County, Rugg said the Master Gardener program’s main focus is the Owatonna community garden. The volunteers rent out plots to area gardeners, offer knowledge and help with planting. Although she’s worked remotely in Steele County for most of her tenure, due to COVID-19, she’s worked with the Master Gardeners to install a rain garden at the fairgrounds.

“We had to file exemptions for safety reasons, but we were allowed to, at least as Master Gardeners, follow protocols,” Rugg said. “We’re not even allowed to meet with people in person yet, but at least we can get together and do some programming amongst ourselves.”

In Rice County, the Master Gardeners have an active committee that installed a teaching garden at the Rice County Fairgrounds. This year, she said improvements to this garden are on the “to-do” list along with a drive-thru tree giveaway in celebration of Arbor Day.

Rice County’s program was recently awarded a CHS Seeds for Stewardship grant, which Master Gardeners will put toward the teaching garden.

“They have about a page and a half of chores and jobs to do [at the teaching garden],” Rugg said. “It’s going to be a wonderful addition to the fairgrounds out there. It will be cool.”

Master Gardeners need to fulfill community service requirements and complete specific volunteer hours every year to keep their status current. Rugg guides interns through the program that helps them become Master Gardeners, which requires classroom time through the University of Minnesota Extension and 50 hours of community service the first year.

“In Rice County they have a number of interns, but I’ve only met them through Zoom meetings,” Rugg said. “So I’m looking forward to the days when we can meet in person.”

The big recruitment for interns starts in the fall, and classroom work begins in January, but Rugg said talking to possible educators and interns is an ongoing process.

When it comes to outreach, Rugg said Master Gardeners like promoting their mission and program by meeting with area residents at county fairs. New projects continuously come up, and if anyone has a problem with a tree or a plant, Rugg is there to take calls at the office. But social distancing guidelines have restricted face to face meetings.

Since the pandemic started, Rugg said the Master Gardener program in Minnesota “has done nothing but grow.” Through Zoom meetings, Rugg said Master Gardeners have reached more people than they ever could before.

“We can thank COVID for one thing, and that’s the uptick in gardening,” she said. “We all had to stay home, so what do you do? That’s what I did myself last spring. I let people come visit my gardens with videos saying, ‘This is what looks good in my yard this week,’ and it was fun to do that. We all had to learn how to do things differently to keep our gardens growing.”

Passage of tax credit for historic property repairs would benefit Faribault's downtown
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A provision to extend Minnesota’s Historic Preservation Tax Credit appears to be on track to pass the Minnesota Legislature, providing a short-term victory for owners and admirers of historic structures like those in Faribault’s downtown.

Karl Vohs, a member of Faribault’s Heritage Preservation Commission, used the federal program to help fix his downtown building more than a decade ago. Because repairs to historic buildings can be extremely costly, the program will provide some relief to property owners looking to maintain the state’s architectural history.

Vohs strongly supports the state level program as well, but is concerned that it could get caught up in St. Paul’s constant power struggles.

“It has such a positive history that I haven’t heard people speaking out against it,” he said. “But there’s so much partisanship between the House DFL and Senate Republicans — they seem to like to disagree.”

Supporters of the credit, which was was included in the latest version of the omnibus tax bill released by the Senate on Thursday, have reasons to be elated as well as disappointed by recent announcements. While the provision would have faced a tough road to passage had it not been included in the Senate omnibus bill, the upper chamber’s provision is far less generous than the proposal included in the House version released several weeks ago.

Under the House omnibus bill, a sunset clause would remain, but the program would last for at least eight more years. The Senate’s bill only offered a one-year extension with an overall program cap of 14.5 million.

Faribault has one of the region’s most well developed historic downtowns, though only the 200 block of Main Street is formally on the National Register of Historic Places, as are buildings scattered throughout the city.

That could soon be about to change. After the state passed its version of the historic tax credit, the city hired a consultant to help the city apply to expand the district to most of downtown. After years of hard work and delays, the city appears to be on track to have its application heard this year. It will have to go through the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, the Minnesota State Historical Society’s state review board and the National Parks Service.

For buildings covered under the National Register, all improvements must meet standards laid out by the National Parks Service. Community Development Director Kim Clausen, who serves as staff liaison to Faribault’s Heritage Preservation Commission, said that can get expensive very quickly.

Clausen also touted the program’s positive impact on the local economy. According to the University of Minnesota Extension service, the program has generated $3.5 billion in revenue and 18,000 jobs, with the vast majority of those dollars staying in local communities.

“Not only does it help us to keep important pieces of history in town, but (those dollars) stay in our community and benefit small business and workers,” she said.

Legislators first created the credit as an experiment, giving it a five-year sunset. They extended it for another five years in 2015, but without another extension or full repeal of the sunset clause the credit will expire at the end of June.

While 39 states offer a tax credit for historic building preservation, Minnesota’s is among the most generous, covering up to 20% of eligible expenses. As an alternative to the credit, historic building owners can claim a grant, for up to 90% of allowable credit. The program mirrors its federal counterpart, with an identical discount, similar application process and set of qualifications. Only buildings certified as contributing to a Historic Preservation District or designated on the National Register of Historic Places are eligible.

At the urging of the HPC, Main Street Owatonna and other local advocates, Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, and Rep. Brian Daniels, R-Faribault, both co-sponsored legislation to repeal the sunset clause.

Even though the program enjoys broad support, advocates knew it would still be a tough ask because unlike the federal government, Minnesota’s legislature is expected to balance its budget each year. As a result, legislators only have a limited amount of dollars to invest.

Erin Hanafin Berg, who serves as policy director with Rethos (formerly the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota), wasn’t surprised that the Senate’s version is more limited than the House’s, given that DFLers run the House while Republicans control the Senate.

The Senate’s legislation is built around a commitment not to increase taxes, leaving Senators with less money to invest in programs. However, advocates argue that shortchanging the Historic Preservation Tax Credit is shortsighted given the economic activity it produces.

While the Senate version was always likely to be leaner, Berg was surprised by the provision capping total program costs. She said it’s still unclear what impact the Senate’s cap will have on the program’s function.

“We feel that it’s a strong program that’s proven its worth,” she said. “It’s disappointing that the extension in the Senate’s bill is only for a year, but at least it’s a place to start from.”

Local animal shelter, Rescue 55021, to close
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After five years and hundreds of successful adoptions, Faribault’s animal shelter will soon be no more.

Earlier this week, Rescue 55021 announced on Facebook that it is winding down operations, with a final operating day set for July 31. In advance of that date, the shelter has stopped accepting new pets so it can focus on adopting out its remaining dogs and cats. Executive Director Theresa Vold says that a garage sale will be held sometime next month to sell off the shelter’s remaining possessions, such as dog collars, leashes and pet toys.

For Vold and Rescue 55021’s Board of Directors, the decision was an agonizing one. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit a year ago, demand for shelter pets has been so great that Rescue 55021 and other local shelters have had a hard time keeping up.

In its farewell post, Rescue 55021 took care to emphasize that the reasons for the closure are not financial, even though Vold has said the shelter might have been forced to close last year without financial assistance from the city of Faribault.

Despite the significant costs of preparing every animal for adoption, Vold says the organization has managed to pay its bills on time. She emphasized that such success was certainly not a given, and gave credit for it to Rescue 55021’s determined group of volunteers. The nonprofit shelter has grown over the last several years, hosting events like the free Easter Egg Handout.

Due to her total devotion to the shelter’s success, Vold spent countless hours away from family. Now, she’s reached a time in her life where those long hours have become difficult to maintain and make less sense.

Vold struggled immensely with the decision and hoped that a member of Rescue 55021’s Board of Directors could step up to take the position. Even though that didn’t happen,, she’s still immensely proud of the work its has done.

“This isn’t a failure by any means,” she said. “We’ve operated with honesty and integrity. Now, we’re hoping somebody will step up behind us because one is desperately needed.”

Vold said that the nonprofit has a significant amount of money, which it plans to leave to other animal-focused local organizations such as Prairie’s Edge Humane Society in Northfield. Founded in 1985, Prairie’s Edge is a nonprofit, though one that receives county funding.

Vold also encouraged Rescue 55021’s volunteers and donors to consider supporting Prairie’s Edge. Prairie’s Edge Executive Director Kathy Jasnoch is grateful to receive that support but said that families looking to adopt will need to be aware that the process may take some time due to high demand.

“The great thing is that we’re finding people who want to adopt,” she said. “But it’s going to be tougher, and people are going to have to be patient.”