Minnesota District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls and District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake stopped by the Redwood County Board of Commissioners meeting July 16 to talk about a variety of issues from transportation funding to a disparity in dollars being allocated for out-of-home placement in counties that have a Native American population.
The two Republican legislators spoke with the board as separate agenda items that morning, with Dahms, who represents all of Redwood County, indicating that the legislature increased funding for county program aid, adding some in the legislature have been looking to take some of that funding and more specifically indicate how counties are supposed to spend it.
Dahms said he does not support that, as he thinks local control is always the better solution. When the next session begins Dahms said the focus will be on policy making, adding one of the issues he believes will be discussed is the Family Leave Act.
“This could be a huge issue,” said Dahms, adding there has been talk about increasing the number of days allowed under that provision and expanding it to include more people who would qualify to take it.
Dahms said that could have a big impact on counties, adding what he would prefer to see is something similar to an expansion of short-term disability that could be offered to employees.
When it comes to transportation funding, Dahms said the state continues to allocate added funds for infrastructure, adding he recognizes there is a needed to continue to allocate dollars to address the needs of the states roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Dahms said he does not believe a gas tax is the right answer, adding polls continue to demonstrate that a majority of the public does not want a gas tax increase.
A gas tax is not a viable option, added Dahms, simply because of a number of issues. Among those is the increase in the number of electric cars that are on the road. For Dahms, those electric cars are using the roads just like other vehicles, but because they are not paying a gas tax they are not paying for the wear and tear roads are experiencing by those vehicles.
Dahms added the use of sales tax revenue related to items, such as car parts, that are directly connected to transportation continues to be, from his perspective, a better option, adding 50 percent of those funds are now being allocated to transportation. He would like to see that increase.
Hamilton, who represents the Redwood County townships and cities along U.S. Highway 14 in the House, said he supported the gas tax increase in 2008, adding at that time he believed it was needed. However, he also said there needs to be a different, more sustainable source of transportation funding, and he believes there is a source that can be found to do that.
Jim Salfer, county commissioner, expressed concern about what is a perceived inequity among those counties that serve Native American communities as it relates to funding for out-of-home placement, with counties in northern Minnesota receiving significantly more in terms of funding.
Both Dahms and Hamilton said they would look into that.
Lon Walling, county commissioner, shared his frustration with the process for road work, adding more than a year ago a bridge on CSAH 5 in Redwood County was damaged by a flood and had to be closed. The county was finally able to award the bid for that work during the July 16 meeting.
Walling said the county is spending so much money on paper for a project like this when it would be nice to be able to spend more dollars on concrete.
In other action during its meeting, the board:
• Awarded a CSAH 4 bridge project to Landwehr Construction of St. Cloud at a cost of $246,593.
• Awarded a CSAH 5 bridge project to M&K Bridge Construction of Walnut Grove at a cost of $619,137. This was not the low bid for the project, which was submitted by Everstrong Construction, but the board raised concerns that it felt justified not taking the low bid.
• Approved an increase of $3,250 in 2020 for the Plum Creek Library System. During the meeting, the county ditch authority met and approved a petition to abandon a portion of county ditch 24.