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Oberloh to be honored by League of Minnesota Cities

Ana Anthony/Daily Globe Mayor Alan Oberloh sits in his chair in the Worthington City Hall council chambers during a September 2011 meeting.

WORTHINGTON -- A few weeks ago, Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh got an interesting email from Betsy Hodges, a Minneapolis City Council member.

"When I read the email, I saw her name on it and I knew she was the president of the league this year," Oberloh said. "I just thought it was something the league was sending out. When I read the email, I was pleasantly surprised."

What Hodges said in her email was that Oberloh was going to be the recipient of the League of Minnesota Cities President's Award. He will be presented the award today at the annual LMC's annual conference.

"Normally, when there is a President's Award, it's for one person and maybe it's somebody that's retiring or whatever," Oberloh said.

Not this year.

According to that letter, Hodges is extending the award to the Governor's Tax Reform Advisory Group for Local Government Aid. Oberloh was a part of that committee.

"It was a pleasure working with that group, especially with Myron Frans from the Department of Revenue and his staff," Oberloh said. "Myron is a class-act guy. Working with him and his staff, you never thought there was a stupid response. All the mayors offered responses to him in what ways they thought to improve local government aid. He had cities from the size of Minneapolis to the smallest one was Buffalo Lake, which is 800 people."

The committee consisted of 15 mayors from across the state.

"Each mayor's voice was just as important as the rest," Oberloh said. "Going into that, I don't think they had done anything like that before -- the Department of Revenue or the governor, get that wide-ranging of a group. We had people from the Iron Range; I was the furthest one from the south. Hoyt Lakes was probably the furthest one to the north."

Not only was the committee wide-ranging in terms of geography, but so was the amount of aid each mayor's community received.

"When you look at the communities, some of them get so little government aid that he (Frans) didn't load it up with cities that were government aids," Oberloh said. "Northfield gets little government. Circle Pines and Mayor Dave Bartholomay, he gets very little. Richfield is going to start getting it now because Richfield is an older suburb. They formerly didn't get it. It was such a good deal working with those guys and gals."

It all started with a phone call.

"I got appointed by Governor (Mark) Dayton," Oberloh said. "I got called from someone on his staff saying they were thinking about putting this group together to study the reform of local government aid and asked if I'd be willing to do it. I didn't even know at the time who was going to be on it. (Minneapolis Mayor) R.T. Rybak, I had heard, was going to be the chair, and (so was) Dave Kleis, who is from St. Cloud and is a former legislator."

At each meeting, the committee looked at the formula, trying to find the right balance.

"Every meeting we went to, there would be somebody from the Department of Revenue, and one of their staffers that would do formulas -- 'If we do this, this is the effect on a sampling of individual cities,'" Oberloh explained. "Every city is affected differently by the formulas. Part of the formula dealt with pre-1940s houses.

"One of the things in the formula was how many traffic accidents do you have? Things that were old data that hadn't been changed in years that needed an update. We had to factor in the implications of doing that way to different communities, and that isn't what we want to do."

The goal was to blend all the ideas and formulas together to make them viable for the entire state. Even though the LGA formula that passed wasn't based on the exact recommendations made by the committee, Oberloh knows it made a difference.

"I would hope that it made enough difference and it was important enough that people in St. Paul recognized that by getting a group of mayors -- people who represent people in their communities from big and small cities -- to work together to come up with a solution, even though not every bit of it was exactly the way we presented it," Oberloh said. "Just the idea we could work together and get something done, maybe that's just the start of it and we can look at other areas of government.

"Myron Frans has told this group that he'd like to keep this group together, so if other things come up in the areas of what the Department of Revenue deals with, we could get the group back together and bounce ideas off each other."

Community Content Coordinator Aaren Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.