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Lonsdale police station begins to come together
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Construction of Lonsdale’s new Police Department has been in the works for some time now, and it is finally beginning to come together. Anyone who has seen the existing station knows that the police need somewhere better to work out of, and this new station promises to be the state-of-the-art upgrade that the community needed.

Spencer Beissel / By SPENCER BEISSEL spencer.beissel@apgsomn.com 

The Lonsdale City Council approves new payment to Kue Contractors.(Spencer Beissel/southernminn.com)

The upgrade, however, comes at a staggering price.

The 10th portion of the payment for the work done in the construction of Lonsdale’s new police facility to Kue Contractors was approved by the City Council. This payment was for $180,562 and was agreed upon after careful deliberation by the council. The original estimate for construction was $1.7 million, but it’s projected to come to an actual total of $2.5 million.

The construction of the new police station is underway, but not without minor setbacks.

During the early phases, unapproved methods were used to erect a portion of the northwest corner of the garage wall. The main controversy with this stems from an issue with the uncertainty behind the structural integrity of the aforementioned section of wall. The rest of the exterior of the building is made of precast concrete panels with embossed brick, but this section is a concrete panel with the bricks affixed to the outside with mortar.

Fortunately, all other work has been completed to the preset standards and expectations of the architect.

The wall panels could be removed and replaced with the correct materials, but the walls would have to be taken apart, causing major setbacks on top of the setback from waiting five weeks for the correct panels to be made. That is, assuming the company that made the precast walls could get a hold of matching brick to remake the panels. Short supply of this brick is one of the reasons that the panels were installed without the correct brick being embossed into the panel.

In response to the issue with the wall panels, the city requested a 10-year warranty from the contractor for the unapproved panels, but, according to City Administrator Joel Erickson, “no warranty has been agreed to at this time,” so the council approved the 10th payment to Kue Contractors without assurance of the quality or durability of the wall panels.

Scott Pelava stated he’d attend weekly meetings to monitor the progress and potential issues during construction of the new building. He stated the reason for the meetings changing from every other week to weekly is that “there is just enough activity going on; that way, we can stay ahead of it… there’s a few headaches now that we’re dealing with, but we’re able to stay on top of them.”

The construction of the new police building is now making good progress: Joel Erickson said that “the cast-in-place concrete interior walls, steel framing, and other exterior work,” have been completed since the last pay request, and the ironwork, plumbing and floor are currently being worked on.

The new police station is nearing the end of its construction, as it is slated for completion early in the summer of 2022. With completion around the corner, it is growing increasingly important for quality assurance to be an object of focus for both the council and the crew building the new station.


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Rice County’s new OmniBallot devices ready for township elections

New Minnesota-made assistive marking devices will be in place by the time Rice County’s rural residents head to the polls, Tuesday, March 8.

The federal government requires devices that meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, including the OmniBallot tablets purchased by Rice County, to be located in polling places with more than 500 registered voters during township elections, and all polling places during state and federal elections. In Rice County, the Morristown, Richland and Wheeling townships have fewer than 500 registered voters.

While ADA accessible, the devices are available to any voter making a request. Voters simply place their paper ballot into the attached printer and make their selection(s) on the tablet. Once the voter reviews their ballot and selects “Accept” on the device’s screen, the printer marks the ballot, which is then ready to go into the ballot counter.

The devices will be set up to ensure privacy when voting and placed on tables that allow wheelchairs to slide underneath them. They are hardened tables that do not access the internet and do not calculate vote totals.

The tablets allow voters to:

• Zoom in or out, making text larger or smaller

• Use headphones to listen to voting instructions and lists of candidates for each office on the ballot

• Adjust the speed at which the speaker is talking

• Select a white screen with black lettering or a white screen with black lettering

• Use Braille to aid them in making their selections

The system ensures that the voter doesn’t choose more candidates per race than permitted, that the ballot is legible, and in primary races, that they vote only within their selected party. Voters can use the keypad or touch screen to add write-in candidates.

The 33 machines, will replace devices purchased in 2006 that are years beyond their lifespan and are about a third the weight of their predecessors, making them much easier to transport. The cost for the new devices is $152,328. To help defray costs, the county has applied for $76,164 in federal grant money. It expects to submit a second request, this time to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, for another $34,983.

The machines will be available for voters to test weekdays between 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. from Tuesday, Jan. 25 to Monday, March 7 at the Rice County Government Services Building, 320 Third St., Faribault. Rice County offices are closed Monday, Feb. 21 for Presidents Day. New assistive voting devices will first be used in Rice County during the March township elections. The technology meets ADA requirements, but can be used by any voter who chooses.


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2022 Rice County township elections filing period opened Dec. 28
  • Updated

Erin Township Hall and Community Center sits alongside Independence Avenue in Lonsdale. (File photo/southernminn.com)

Filing for seats on Rice County township boards of supervisors opens Tuesday, Dec. 28 and runs through Tuesday, Jan. 11.

The clerk’s seat is up in 12 of the county’s 14 townships. In Bridgewater and Webster townships, the clerk is an appointed, not an elected, position.

One seat on each township’s boards of supervisors will also be on the ballot, except in Walcott Township where one three-year supervisor’s seat and one one-year supervisor’s seat will be up.

Candidates for town board must:

• Be eligible to vote in Minnesota

• Not have filed for another office at the upcoming primary or general election

• Be 21 years or more upon assuming office

• Have maintained residence in their district for at least 30 days before the general election

Candidates must file with the town clerk. Contact the town clerk to learn when and where they are accepting affidavits for candidacy. Filing offices must be open from 1-5 p.m. on the last day of filing, Tuesday, Jan. 11. Filing offices will be closed on New Year’s Day holiday, Friday, Dec. 31.

In addition to completing an affidavit for candidacy, candidates must pay a $2 filing fee. Township elections will be held Tuesday, March 8.


When the weather cooperated, clinics could be held outdoors. (Photo courtesy of Rice County)


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Local legislators, leaders consider how to utilize large state surplus
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Thanks to strong economic growth fueled by robust consumer spending, the Minnesota Legislature will return to session at the end of January with the most welcome of election-year questions — how to utilize an exceptionally large budget surplus.

While the state’s fiscal and economic outlook may be clouded in the medium-to-long-term by COVID, inflation and supply chain issues, the short-term forecast presented earlier this month by Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter is unquestionably good.

Schowalter described the projected $7.75 billion surplus as “out of the ordinary, even in extraordinary times.” The surplus amounts to about 15% of the amount lawmakers established last year as part of their two-year budget cycle.

Both major parties are tailoring their proposals on how to use that surplus with an eye to securing public approval, because, along with Gov. Tim Walz, all 201 legislators will be on the ballot this fall, running in new districts that are expected to be drawn in the coming months.

Legislative control

Currently, Republicans hold a narrow majority in the Minnesota Senate and DFLers a narrow majority in the Minnesota House. Over the last 30 years, only the 2012 election, which gave then-Gov. Mark Dayton a DFL legislature, saw voters award full control of state government to one party.

However, Republicans will hope to do well in the event of a traditional midterm backlash against President Joe Biden and his party, especially given that Biden’s approval ratings have sagged in recent months.

Meanwhile, DFLers need a net gain of just one Minnesota Senate seat to secure full control of state government and could benefit from redistricting thanks to robust population growth in their Twin Cities strongholds.

Bonding

With the budget for the biennium already set, legislators traditionally hold a shorter session in even numbered years with a particular focus on the state bonding bill. Through bonding, the state is allowed to issue bonds to pay for key infrastructure projects.

Passed in October 2020, the most recent bonding bill was the largest in Minnesota history. The total package, which also included tax relief for small businesses and farmers, funds for affordable housing and a small supplemental budget, had a price tag of close to $2 billion.

Local communities across Minnesota have already submitted more than $5 billion in requests this year. For many communities, Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities Executive Director Bradley Peterson said there’s no greater need than wastewater infrastructure.

While the recently passed federal infrastructure bill includes hundreds of millions of dollars to improve Minnesota’s water infrastructure, Peterson said the state needs to do more too. The coalition has estimated that, over the next two decades, communities will need more than $10 billion to complete needed water infrastructure projects.

“This is not the time for the state to take its foot off the pedal,” Peterson said. “We’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars in projects that need to be done.”

Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, is the only local legislator on the Capital Investment Committee, which is tasked with putting together the bill. Along with his fellow committee members, Jasinski has been traveling the state, touring projects that could potentially see state investment.

Given the size of the surplus, Jasinski indicated that it’s possible that the state could invest a portion of the surplus in infrastructure projects it would normally otherwise bond for. However, he emphasized that he is committed to giving the bulk of the money back to taxpayers.

“If we’re collecting that much in taxes, then we’re collecting too much,” he said.

Taxation

Republicans are expected to focus on tax relief, with Jasinski and his Republican colleagues touting their plan to exempt Social Security benefits from taxes. Currently, Minnesota is one of just 14 states that taxes Social Security.

Although Minnesota was ranked as the seventh best state for doing business by CNBC earlier this year, it has relatively high tax rates when compared to most states. In addition, a report published earlier this year by the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence shows the system is also one of the nation’s most progressive.

However, the state’s high levels of taxation on the wealthy and businesses doesn’t sit well with Jasinski, who said he is concerned that the state could see an exodus of higher income Minnesotans moving to lower tax states such as Florida.

Similarly, Rep. Susan Akland, R-St. Peter, said she is focused on making Minnesota a more tax friendly state for businesses. A key component of that, which enjoys bipartisan support at the Legislature, is filling the $1 billion deficit in the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund.

Currently, Minnesota is one of 10 states that owes the federal government $1.13 billion for covering deficits in the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. If that money is not repaid, businesses across the state could see significant automatic payroll tax hikes.

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, wants to see a portion of the surplus go towards restoring the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, but also called for tax credits and rebates aimed at working families, as well as investments in affordable housing.

Workforce

Frentz said that he’ll also work to provide additional funding for local law enforcement and public safety agencies to recruit and retain the staff they need to keep their communities safe. Resignations and retirements of law enforcement officers have spiked nationally, according to a June survey from the Police Executive Research Forum.

Given the intensity of Minnesota’s ongoing workforce shortage, addressing the state’s childcare crisis is likely to be a higher priority than ever. Even before COVID-19, greater Minnesota had a shortage of about 40,000 childcare spots — and that number has only increased.

Childcare investment has long been a priority of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, and this year, the coalition is calling for $20 million in bonding to build childcare facilities, as well as licensure reform to help mid-sized providers.

Compared to the Twin Cities, greater Minnesota’s child care system is heavily reliant on smaller providers, which makes the market less stable. Low pay is also a hallmark of the job, further discouraging providers from staying or entering the childcare market.

Rep. Todd Lippert, DFL-Northfield, said he strongly supports using part of the surplus to make additional investments in programs benefiting children and families. By investing in childcare specifically, he argues the state could help both long-struggling providers and businesses struggling to find workers.

“This is a place where we can address multiple challenges at once,” Lippert said.

For Lippert, another priority will be helping families to lower their energy bills through increased investment in weatherization programs. Given spikes in the cost of electricity, natural gas and propane, Lippert noted that energy bills have been more of a concern than ever this winter.

Given that the Legislature remains divided between a DFL-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate, neither side can expect to achieve their full vision. Instead, Frentz said that finding common ground is likely to be the name of the game.

“I think that the money has to go to benefit Minnesotans, and that will take compromise between the House, Senate and governor,” he said.


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