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LGA one of many topics at Worthington forum

Worthington City Hall (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton and District 53A Rep. Linda Runbeck met with various area representatives Friday for a discussion that focused on hearing local input about recent legislative changes.

"We want to hear from you and how you look at (the) state and local government relationship," said Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, who is the chair of the Minnesota House's Property and Local Tax Division. "Are there ways we can serve a community like yours?"

Oberloh asked Runbeck who would be responsible for stipulations that could be added on Local Government Aid (LGA) uses if there were requests made by cities.

"It feels like it has been a futile effort," he said. "I want to tell you that I want to be part of the solution."

Collaboration and consolidation

"One thing in southwest Minnesota, we do a great job collaborating -- ensuring services and cutting cost wherever," District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard said in response to Runbeck's question on plans for consolidation.

"The city, county and school meet regularly when there are joint projects we can do," Oberloh added.

"Is there any level of government that should shrink?" Runbeck asked.

County commissioner Diane Thier said that there are several townships that could be consolidated.

"It's not right when such few people can decide something," she said about the scarcity of people in certain townships. "I would like to see it (consolidation)."

"Once you shut down those township operations, somebody else have to maintain those roles, and in most cases it falls on the county," Nobles County Public Works director Steve Schnieder added. "People's expectations will be different, and maybe the cost of operations will increase."

Economic development

WREDC Manager Glenn Thuringer said a primary focus in the area is to increase the average household income.

"We can go out and create jobs, but now we need to create quality jobs," Thuringer said. "We can talk about how to build more lower-income housing, but why aren't we talking about how we can get people to afford market-rate housing?"

Thuringer noted that a major challenge the area faces with attracting companies that would pay higher salaries is the lack of significant entry points -- like a four-year college.

"We need to encourage these institutions to have more of a presence here," he said. "You're in one of the only areas that University of Minnesota doesn't have a real-live presence other than the Extension office."

A school district issue

District 518 board member Linden Olson voiced his concern over the recent switch of the Market Value Homestead Credit (MVHC) program to the new Homestead Market Value Exclusion (HMVE) program.

"Because our district has a low valuation per student, in order to keep the same funding it is going to raise property taxes on the non-homestead people a fair amount," Olson said, explaining that district funding got cut while the state's didn't.

LGA concerns

In light of recent LGA cuts, Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark said that when comparing the city's budget to that of Eagan, a Metro-area city, on a percentage basis, both cities had very similar budget appropriations.

"We were right in line with them," Clark said. "We'd like to build a swimming pool in town or some expectation of services."

"Realizing that they (Eagan) are a larger community, our percentages correlate," Oberloh echoed. "It really backed up our argument that we are not spending frivolously."

After the discussion, Runbeck said that two significant issues she noted were economic development and lack of housing in the area.

In terms of economic development, there is a need for a strong tax base, she said.

"We can't continue to drive businesses out with high taxes," she said. "That is something the local government needs to consider."

"Perhaps there are some expertise and development dollars that have to follow services out here," she said when asked if she could foresee more cooperation between state and local government to aid housing in the area. "We can't have everything based in St. Paul."