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New armory plans revealed: Pipestone County faces street deterioration problems

PIPESTONE -- A National Guard official met Tuesday morning with the Pipestone County Board of Commissioners and revealed plans to build a new armory.

PIPESTONE - A National Guard official met Tuesday morning with the Pipestone County Board of Commissioners and revealed plans to build a new armory. 

In an effort to reduce long-term costs associated with operating an armory, Minnesota Army National Guard (MNARNG) recently decided to consolidate the armories in Pipestone and Luverne and build a new 38,000-square-foot armory and 8,000-square-foot cold storage facility on 10 to 15 acres of land. Construction on the project would start in 10 to 15 years.
The project will cost about $12-14 million and will be funded primarily by the federal and state governments.
“It’s unique in this situation in that we are walking away from both facilities and that opens up a lot more possibilities,” said Col. Larry Herke, the construction and facilities management officer for MNARNG.
The current armory in Pipestone was in poor condition when the MNARNG assessed the facility.
“We had shingles flying off the roof, it was cold in the building, there was no air distribution,” Herke listed, adding that the building’s electrical framework was not up to code and the facility did not have appropriate storage space.
That’s why the armory received $3 million in renovations, since units will train in the facility until the new one is complete.
However, the renovations cannot fix the lack of space in the facility and on the property, as required by the National Guard of the United States.
The Luverne armory was also in a poor condition during the MNARNG’s assessment.
Currently, MNARNG is looking for a location for the new armory, and the city in which it would reside has yet to be decided.

Cities usually donate land to MNARNG for new armories, Herke said, encouraging city officials to contact MNARNG about possible locations.
“The economic impact of the armory (in Pipestone) is great,” said Commissioner Dan Wildermuth. “It’s unfortunate that this situation pits two communities against each other. … The impact would be great to this community, and we would do anything we can to help.”
The commissioners asked Herke if the MNARNG required the armory to be situated near an airport.
“It’s certainly not a dealbreaker, but there is a benefit,” Herke said, adding that an armory in New Ulm is situated near an airport in case of an emergency.
The MNARNG plans to finalize the location of the new armory by 2018.
MNARNG also hopes the armory will share the location with a public entity, such as a school or recreation center, to help incorporate the facility into the community.
The old armory will be appraised by a third party and the city will have the first opportunity to purchase it, Herke said. He explained that the funds would be used to build new National Guard of the United States facilities.
Herke was invited to visit the area after local officials were concerned the Pipestone Armory would close.
“There was a communications plan that was supposed to go to the mayors,” Herke said, adding that the MNARNG did not mean to cause confusion among public officials.
The board also discussed funding for the roads and highways in the county.
County engineer David Halbersma told the board that Pipestone County has reached minimum county status, meaning the county receives the least amount of state aid in Minnesota.
“We’ve hit rock bottom on state aid dollars,” Halbersma said, adding that many of the street projects he is considering including in the county’s five-year plan may not be viable without state aid.
“State aid hasn’t kept up with inflation and construction costs,” he said. “I think (state aid) will increase for the county in the future, otherwise our whole road system will fall apart. It is just not adequate right now. We have to find a way to increase funding somehow.”
He proposed the board enact wheelage and aggregate production taxes.
The wheelage tax would charge residents $10 per vehicles when they register their vehicles, and the latter would tax gravel production in the county. However, a portion of the aggregate production tax would also be given to townships.
“Between the two, the wheelage tax would be the most important and would generate the most revenue to help the effort,” he said.
“I struggle with the fact that the state is shifting the responsibility to us - yet knowing that things are going further and further behind with our infrastructure, it seems irresponsible to not address it,” said Chairman Luke Johnson.
“The wheelage tax is a Band-Aid solution,” said Commissioner Bruce Kooiman. “I guess at this point, I would support an aggregate tax but not a wheelage tax.”
The Minnesota Legislature may increase registration fees, Johnson said.
“I don’t want to make too much of an increase,” he added.
“We need to be cautious on what we say is a state aid system, not a state system,” Halbersma said. “They can come back and say, ‘What have you done with yourself, you haven’t put levy money into your own roads.’”
The board approved for Halbersma to draft a resolution for the aggregate tax and to revisit the wheeling tax in June, after the legislative session ends.

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