by Dennis Dalman
Just as the point where many were finally convinced the deal would never be done, it happened: on Oct. 13 and 14, the State Legislature, both House and Senate, approved the biggest bonding bill in state history, a whopping $1.9 billion package.
And it’s good news for St. Joseph. The bill includes $4 million for a long-proposed community center in the city, which will likely be called – at least according to past planning sessions – the “Jacob Wetterling Recreation Center,” named after the local boy kidnapped and killed more than 30 years ago.
The $4 million in state money would go toward the design, construction and equipment” for the recreation center, which would be built on the site of the former Kennedy Elementary School building. The total cost of the community center project has been estimated, variously, as high as $16 million.
City staff had practically given up on a community center because of the repeated inability of the legislature to pass a bonding bill.
That particular project has been in the city’s on-again, off-again planning for several years. As part of the state bonding bill, it was long in doubt because the Minnesota Legislature just could not agree on that bill, which was twice rejected in the State House. Like all bonding bills, it required 81 votes (a three-fifths majority) in the House. The bill was a hang-over from the legislature’s regular 2020 session. Finally, and to the surprise of many, it passed during the fifth special session of the year. In the House on Oct. 13, it passed 100-34, with 25 Republicans joining the Democratic majority in approval. Next day, the Senate also approved it on a vote of 64-3.
Twice before, the bill had failed to pass for various reasons, high among them because of Republicans’ dislike of Gov. Tim Walz’s executive powers in dealing with the virus pandemic.
Among the area legislators who voted for the bill were Rep. Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring), Sen. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville), Rep. Dan Wolgamott (R-St. Cloud) and Sen. Jerry Relph (R-St. Cloud). Area legislators voting against the bill were Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell) and Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud).
The bonding bill passed by many reluctant legislators, mainly Republican ones, who objected to it for a variety of reasons: the bill containing more “wants” than “needs;” a contention it will lead to an alarming deficit that will only lead to very serious budget cuts in the future; the cost of debt service to pay for the loan.
Proponents, however, and even some reluctant supporters, said the bill will offer some relief to farmers and small-business owners, help create jobs, boost the economy and strengthen some of the state’s ailing infrastructure.
Besides the $4 million for the St. Joseph Community Center, the bonding bill has money it for the following planned projects in the greater St. Cloud area:
• $10 million toward a $20-million cost of upgrades to the St. Cloud Municipal Athletic Complex.
• $5.5 million for Sartell road improvements.
• $500,000 for Sartell for parks improvements.
• $800,000 for the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud.
• $90.9 million for the state’s colleges and universities.
Among other statewide provisions of the bill:
• $200 million in tax cuts for farmers and small-business owners and a provision for those people to deduct the cost of purchases for much-needed large equipment.
• $116 million for affordable-housing projects.
• Funds for infrastructure improvements including those for roads and bridges, sewers and water upgrades.