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Legislature boosts city, school funding

Minnesota lawmakers kept busy during the 2014 session, scaling back some of last year's tax increases, authorizing more than $1 billion in public works spending, raising the minimum wage and passing other high profile legislation, from an anti-bullying measure to a bill that permits a limited form of medical marijuana.

While DFLers have hailed the session as a historic success, Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Lake Shore, believes the party in control of both legislative chambers and the governor's office continues to overreach.

"We're still overtaxed, we're still over regulated, we're still over-governing and we grew government at an exponential rate again," said Anderson, who represents most of Wadena and Todd counties in the state House.

Let's take a closer look at how the Wadena area fared at the Capitol this year.

City of Wadena

The legislature increased aid to cities by $7.8 million statewide.

That means Wadena will see a 3.8 percent increase next year, or nearly $48,000 more than the $1,506,184 it received for 2013.

"It wasn't much, but it'll help," City Administrator Brad Swenson said.

He noted Local Government Aid (LGA) funds nearly half of the city budget. Without it, the city would have to increase local property taxes or reduce services - or both - to balance the books.

"This is a big help to the local taxpayers," Swenson said.

Although the state Senate included a veterans memorial in Wadena's Sunnybrook Park in its version of the bill that authorizes state borrowing for public works, the project didn't make it into the bill the governor signed.

"I'm extremely disappointed," said Dave Ludovissie, chairman of the veterans park committee. "That's a blow."

The Senate version, which was sponsored by Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, who represents Wadena, called for $175,000 - half the original request.

It would have been nice to get at least something, Ludovissie said.

"We're going to have to get as much done as we can with the money that we have," he said.

WDC schools

Passed in the final days of session, a supplemental spending bill increased state aid by $25 per student.

For Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools, that's resulted in an approximately $31,000 increase.

"It didn't end up being a lot of money, but it was nice to get," said Superintendent Lee Westrum.

In addition, WDC landed about $23,000 from the state to pay for teacher training and evaluation.

"Between the two (new sources of money), we were able to balance our ($11 million) budget ..." Westrum said. "We were happy about that."

The supplemental spending provided also designated $4 million for the state to expand the free school lunch program to the 61,000 Minnesota children who previous qualified for reduced-priced meals.

"The state is going to make up the difference," Westrum said.

Higher ed

The large public works borrowing bill authorized $4.2 million to remodel and "right-size" Central Lakes Staples.

The project will revamp the student services area, reduce the campus footprint and consolidate the highly regarded manufacturing programs in one part of the building.

"Long term, we're going to be able to provide better services for students," said CLC President Larry Lundblad.

M State asked for money for a similar "right-sizing" project on its Wadena and Fergus Falls campuses, but it received a lower ranking from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and failed to make the cut this time around.

The legislature also granted MnSCU $42.5 million for "asset restoration and preservation." The money hasn't been distributed yet, though M State Wadena is in line for a quarter million dollars to upgrade the electrical panel, said Peter Wielinski, M State vice president of student development services.

M State officials are "confident that the request is going to be granted, because it meets so many of the criteria," Wielinski said

Wadena County

The state public works bill included $33 million for local bridge replacement program. That's $17 million less than Minnesota Department of Transportation had requested.

With $13 million earmarked for a single bridge in Minneapolis, local officials throughout the state are competing for a smaller chunk of money than they had hoped.

Wadena County Engineer Ryan Odden has sought state money to replace the Leaf River Bridge along CSAH 26 in Bullard Township.

Now the project is on the bubble, Odden said. "I don't know if (MnDOT's) going to fund it or not."

Regardless, the bridge isn't in danger of collapsing.

"It'll hold up fine," Odden said. "It's more a capacity issue."