The Minnesota House of Representatives approved a bonding bill Wednesday, Oct. 14, and the Senate approved it Thursday, Oct. 15, including several projects in the Wadena area that would receive funding pending a signature from Gov. Tim Walz.
The bill includes general obligation bonds totaling more than $1.367 billion and additional spending that brings the total package to nearly $1.9 billion in public infrastructure investments.
Included in the bill are a handful of local projects for Todd and Wadena Counties:
$1.3 million for the City of Wadena to predesign, design, engineer and construct an access road from Highway 10 to the new Tri-County Hospital near 11th Street NW. This project came up in an effort to more safely allow traffic in and out of the site of the new Tri-County Health Care facility, which has had its construction postponed until at least summer 2021. The project includes turn lanes, lights and a shifting of the current access point to the west. It will also fund the three entrances to the new hospital along 11th Street.
Tri-County Health Care President and CEO Joel Beiswenger said the passage through the House and Senate was great news for the hospital and the community as this work was needed to allow several hundred more vehicles to be entering at this site daily. Its current orientation was not a 90-degree entrance and thus was not the safest access. With traffic speeds expected to remain high at that spot, added turn lanes and bypass lanes will offer less congestion and hopefully fewer accidents. The placement of the entrance several hundred feet to the west also allows drivers to better see oncoming traffic, according to Beiswenger.
Beiswenger was grateful for legislators including Rep. John Poston, R-Lake Shore; Sen. Paul Gazelka R-Nisswa; Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen R-Alexandria; and Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, who he said championed the hospital project to see it make it through the sessions.
Beiswenger sees this road work to be completed in conjunction with the actual construction of the hospital complex. Funding for that project is expected to come through towards the end of November 2020 followed by bidding starting in the spring of 2021.
Demolition of remaining structures on the farmstead the hospital purchased is expected to start in about one week.
The bill also included:
$4 million to design and construct a new solid waste transfer station and household hazardous waste facility in Todd County. The county’s current facility is outdated and inefficient, according to Poston.
$25 million trunk highway project development appropriation. This specifically named Hwy 10 in Wadena to include environmental analysis, predesign, design and engineering so that it is shovel ready. That means a portion of these funds could be used to at least prepare the last remaining stretch of two-lane Hwy 10 on either side of Wadena. It would not cover the cost of actually paving the surface but it could take care of a chunk of the total bill. The estimated total cost of completing the four lanes of traffic is about $50-55 million.
Just completing the ground work is important according to Poston and Wadena City Administrator Janette Bower because they say having it ready moves it up on the priority list.
“Once you get something shovel ready - sitting there and ready- that’s something the DOT has to pay a lot of attention to,” Poston said. He said having been working to see this project through over the last four-five years and hearing from locals that have hoped to see it done for the last 40 years, he was very pleased to have passed the bonding bill with at least a chance for a portion of the cost to be covered.
Seeing it pass through the House and Senate was good, but seeing it signed by the governor was needed before Bower was ready to celebrate.
“If it continues it is good news,” Bower said.
Getting to a bill was a contentious 11 hours on Wednesday, Poston said on Thursday morning. He said the bonding bill was a big part but another a win for the area included approval of a tax bill to benefit small businesses and farmers.
The bill fixes Section 179 expensing, providing tax relief for farmers and small business owners across Minnesota. Included as part of House File 1, the language eliminates the state add-back for Section 179 deduction for tax years beginning in 2020 and retroactively for property acquired in a like-kind exchange in tax years beginning in 2018.
“Providing a fix to the Section 179 issue was a top priority during this year’s legislative session and I am happy to see this get done,” Rep. Poston said. “By fixing these retroactive tax increases, we will help preserve family farms around the state and help Minnesota businesses reinvest in employees and communities.”
In 2019, Minnesota conformed to elements of the 2018 federal tax law, but did not adopt many of the expensing provisions including section 179. This resulted in Minnesota only allowing for a fraction of investments to be immediately expensed, thus putting Minnesotans at a disadvantage and resulting in unexpected tax bills for farmers and small businesses, according to a House of Representatives news release.