As the state Legislature convenes next week, Minnesota counties and cities are preparing their wish lists for 2013. The one request expected to be made by many suburbs north of the Twin Cities is, simply, be fair.
In the legislative platform approved by the Anoka County Board in late November, the board immediately addressed the Legislature's fiscal disparities policy with this recommendation:
"If changes are proposed to this important fiscal disparities policy, that it be done in a very thoughtful and deliberate manner and only within the context of comprehensive property tax reform. Legislative proposals should be evaluated utilizing the criteria of fairness, equity, stability, transparency and coherence in the treatment of counties, cities, school districts and taxpayers across the metropolitan region."
The county is asking the state for grant money to aid veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The county seeks a clarifying law change to make medical support obligations more equitable. The county also wants a change that would move all responsibility for licensing of family child care homes from counties to the state Department of Human Services.
The county is opposing the Northstar Care for Children program, which would have the county contribute to adoption and relative custody assistance. The county objects to its 45 percent share in the cost. The county also opposes cuts to county-program aid. And the county wants emphasized that county state-aid highway funds are not state funds that are governed by state rules.
Maintenance of roadways dominated many of the wish lists in the northern suburbs.
For the city of Ramsey, all legislative wishes for 2013 begin at Hwy. 10.
Four pedestrians were killed crossing Hwy. 10 in western Anoka County over a four-month period between August and November-- three of them in Ramsey, one in Anoka. When city officials met in December with three local legislators, an emphasis was placed on getting capital funding to make Hwy. 10 safer, particularly at the Armstrong Boulevard interchange, said Kurt Ulrich, city administrator.
Anoka County seems to agree. The County Board is asking for state funding of $17 million for the interchange at Hwy. 10 and Armstrong Boulevard -- to go along with $4 million from the city, $4 million from the county and $10 million in federal grants. Funding currently needed, according to the county, would go toward the final design ($3 million), right-of-way acquisition ($7 million), and $25 million for construction.
Ramsey could use additional funding for the right-of-way acquisition of property along Hwy. 10, Ulrich said.
"Aging suburbs are looking for alternate ways to provide road improvements," said Steve Gatlin, Coon Rapids' new city manager.
But equally important for Coon Rapids and other northern communities is the support of the state's fiscal disparities policy.
"We are hearing there may be a push from outstate communities to do away with fiscal disparities," Gatlin said. "We want to see the current formulas continued."
In Brooklyn Park, there will be a push to finally complete Hwy. 610.
"Hwy. 610 is the vital east-west link for growing northern suburbs," said Michael Sable, Brooklyn Park's assistant city manager. "The construction of the final 2 1/2-mile segment of Hwy. 610 will connect I-94 in Maple Grove to Hwy. 169 in Brooklyn Park and serve as a relief valve for the heavily congested I-94. In addition, Hwy. 610 provides opportunities for continued commercial and industrial expansion along the corridor."
Brooklyn Park hopes the state continues to support foreclosure-recovery efforts and for Hennepin County's requests for the Bottineau light-rail transit corridor.
Brooklyn Center has gone on record in support of legislative agendas proposed by the League of Minnesota Cities and Metro Cities, said Curt Boganey, city manager.
The county wants to reinstate a deed and mortgage filing tax. The tax expired on Dec. 31. When a mortgage was filed or a deed changed owners, the owner paid a fee of .0001 percent of the value of the property to the county's Environmental Response Fund. That fund was used to help developers clean up polluted properties.
"It's particularly useful in the inner-ring suburbs," County Board Chairman Mike Opat said, but the fund will be "going dry" without the tax.
In 2010 and 2011, the fund collected $1.2 million annually. It is projected to raise $1.5 million in 2012, a county spokesman said.
Developers can apply to the county for money from the fund to clean up polluted land. The fund was used to help remediate a dump near Robbinsdale Middle School that now has athletic fields and to clean up land in Brooklyn Park that became a city public works facility.
As it does every year, the county also will seek state aid to hold down the cost to taxpayers of providing care to the indigent at Hennepin County Medical Center. The projected county taxpayer contribution next year is $24 million, Opat said.
Although it's not a major bonding year for the Legislature, the county also is likely to seek some money to get moving on the Southwest Corridor light-rail line.
City Manager Marcia Glick said the city will be closely watching the Legislature and any action taken on local government aid; she said the city needs the money to maintain core services such as street maintenance and public safety.
"Every community is different," she said, adding that the average Robbinsdale house has less than 1,000 square feet. "Robbinsdale, in our niche, is providing a lot of affordable housing. ... It's little houses, little lots and hometown-type businesses."
That smaller property tax base means the city will look to the Legislature to not enact any new laws that decrease current aid, support for local businesses, and local control of housing standards such as requirements on rental properties.
Also on the city's wish list: a new $300,000 picnic pavilion to host events and the city's band concerts. Right now, the city's band performs on a stage rolled out of a semitrailer truck.
But $300,000 is a lot to raise for the small city, and Glick said they're just starting to raise funds and seek grants to help back the project.
Staff writers Rochelle Olson and Kelly Smith contributed to this report.
Paul Levy 612-673-4419