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For small cities, road aid is little help

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers met last spring with big plans to fix the state's roads and bridges. But with huge differences between Democrats and Republicans about how to pay for the work, almost nothing got passed.

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ST. PAUL - Minnesota lawmakers met last spring with big plans to fix the state’s roads and bridges. But with huge differences between Democrats and Republicans about how to pay for the work, almost nothing got passed.

Almost nothing, that is, except several million dollars for Minnesota’s smallest cities.
One of the few significant spending changes approved in the bare-bones transportation budget was $12.5 million for road work in Minnesota cities below 5,000 people. Those cities, unlike larger cities, don’t get regular state aid for roads. Even as one of the rare winners in this year’s transportation stalemate, though, small cities say their needs go far beyond that amount.
“We certainly appreciate any money we can get for our cities, but the $12.5 million, it’s just barely a drop in the bucket for what we need,” said Jill Sletten, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Small Cities.
How can $12.5 million be a drop in the bucket? Because that pot of money is divided between 707 small cities, for an average amount per city around $17,000.
“We appreciate the funds, but $30,000 to $40,000 will basically pay for the blacktop of one city block, and the city of Benson has 26 miles of roadway,” said Rob Wolfington, city manager of Benson in west-central Minnesota.
The western Twin Cities suburb of Long Lake is getting $23,813. Its city administrator Scott Weske also said the money is nice but not sufficient.
“Ultimately $23,000 doesn’t even come close to meeting our needs,” Weske said.

Long Lake is currently working on a million-dollar road project, far bigger than its state contribution.
“The $23,000 should be somewhere around $230,000 if it is going to make an impact,” Weske said.
Lawmakers in both parties don’t disagree. Both the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party plan and the Republican Party plan proposed giving small cities more than $12.5 million.
“It’s important that the state find a way to share in some of the efforts with small cities,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis and the chair of the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee. The $12.5 million is “more of a symbolic gesture. I was happy to support (it), of course.”
This spring, Dibble backed a plan from the Minnesota Association of Small Cities that would have raised vehicle title renewal fees by $10, creating an annual revenue stream for small cities around $57 million. The Republican plan proposed spending around $25 million per

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