If residents of Madelia have grown skeptical about Minnesota’s reputation as a state that’s quick and generous with aid in response to disaster, they’ve had good reason. It’s been 13 months since the southwestern Minnesota town lost eight businesses — a third of its Main Street — to fire. Politicians promptly promised state help with rebuilding, but the bonding and tax bills that were intended to deliver those funds did not make it to the finish line in the 2016 legislative session.
Help finally arrived Friday. Gov. Mark Dayton signed a wetlands reconstruction bill to which $1.7 million for Madelia and its Watonwan County had been added. It was the first public appearance for Dayton since cancer surgery on March 1. He had made a commitment to Madelia in the days after the Feb. 3, 2016 fire, he said, and he was keen to keep it.
The $1.7 million is intended to replace lost city and county property tax receipts and help pay for cleanup and infrastructure replacement on the stricken side of Main Street. More state help is expected to follow later this year in the form of a sales tax exemption on the construction materials used for rebuilding.
The sums involved are not large by state government standards. But they are crucial in a town of 2,300 people, said state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, who represents the area. Without assurance of that help, she said, business owners “would not have committed to stay in this community. This is the kind of disaster that would decimate a small town if it had to go it alone.”
To Madelia’s credit, it has not been simply waiting for state help. Under the banner “Madelia Strong,” much has already been accomplished. But as those from Madelia who attended Friday’s bill-signing ceremony attested, their work is spurred both financially and psychologically by state support.
“Today marks a milestone in Madelia’s recovery,” said Ryan Visher, a Madelia firefighter and business owner. It also marked the return of something Minnesotans value: a state government that’s a reliable friend when trouble strikes.