With less than two months to go before state legislators adjourn for the season, about a dozen bills specifically aimed to benefit Washington County are winding their way through the lawmaking process.
They include nearly $20 million in bond funding requests that were not part of the $1.03 billion list of recommendations by Gov. Mark Dayton before the session began. Those requests, if approved, would help pay for things such as transit and sewer projects and a public safety training complex in Cottage Grove.
Local lawmakers in the House and Senate also have offered a bill that would allow Washington County to designate "border city development zones," which are part of the County Board's renewed focus on economic development and job creation.
The development zone program was created 15 years ago, originally to help five cities on Minnesota's western border — including East Grand Forks and Moorhead — to get state funding in order to offer tax breaks to entice businesses to locate in their communities rather than in neighboring North or South Dakota. Cities on the eastern border facing competition from Wisconsin have been clamoring for inclusion, and Taylors Falls was added to the program last year.
Under the bill, the Washington County Board would designate all or part of a community as a border city development zone, and the state would fund the tax incentives and other perks to potential businesses.
That approach, which targets counties, is a bit different from the previous city-specific legislation, which partly sprang from a series of disastrous floods in western Minnesota, said Kevin Corbid, deputy county administrator. The County Board has been trying to find ways to exert a stronger role in economic development, "and this really fits in with all those discussions," Corbid said. "Any kind of tools we can get are going to be helpful."
Other bills affecting Washington County include those that would:
• Give Bayport 4 acres of land owned by the state near the Stillwater prison to be used as the site for a new fire station. The land, once part of a prison farm, is no longer needed by the state Department of Corrections. The fire station would serve both prisons in Stillwater and Oak Park Heights, along with the city and nearby communities.
• Provide a $1.25 million grant to help purchase 15 acres of land known as the Aiple property along the St. Croix River to create a city park on the north end of Stillwater. The county is still negotiating the sale, but as much as $1.925 million in voter-approved Land and Water Legacy funds from the county will be spent, and the city of Stillwater will contribute at least $500,000 toward the purchase. The park, which would be restored to its natural state, is envisioned as a rest stop at the end of the Brown's Creek State Trail.
Several bills also ask for bonds to fund:
• $2 million for completing a small but crucial gap between current and future trail systems linking Washington and Dakota counties. The money is needed to complete the 1,200-foot gap that crosses railroad tracks, which poses safety problems because it is close to Hwy. 61. The trail would link the Point Douglas Regional Trail now being developed with the St. Croix Scenic Riverway and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.
• $5 million for ongoing development of the Gateway Corridor, the transit link running along Interstate 94 between the St. Croix River and downtown St. Paul. The corridor is poised for preliminary engineering work on what will become either a bus-rapid transit or light-rail line. Bonding requests of $1 million were sought in both 2012 and 2013, but were not awarded.
• $1 million for similar work on the Red Rock Corridor, the transit link running along Hwy. 61 between Hastings and St. Paul. In 2011, $1.25 million in bonds helped fund the new transit station in Newport.
• $2 million for the Rush Line Corridor, the transit link from St. Paul to Forest Lake. Plans are in the works to expand the line to Hinckley.
• $1.46 million to help pay for the $20 million Health and Emergency Response Occupations (HERO) Center in Cottage Grove, a joint project with Inver Hills Community College and possibly other communities. The 75,000-square-foot project aims to fill a growing need for more specialized police, fire and paramedic training.
• $2.02 million for renovations at Century College in White Bear Lake to improve workforce training, which is part of the governor's request for $151.4 million in bond funding for improvements to the state universities and colleges.
• $4 million to Lake Elmo to help pay for a 2½-mile extension of the water main, water tower and other work for two new housing developments.
• $3 million for Hugo's unique stormwater reuse project. The project is expected to save the city 54 million gallons of water annually.