A west-metro legislative wish list for 2013

  • Updated: January 1, 2013 - 11:44 PM

As the state Legislature convenes next week, communities in the west metro have a long wish list of funding and policy priorities for lawmakers.

Here's a look at what some of those cities as well as Hennepin County want from the 2013 Legislature.

HENNEPIN COUNTY

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.

For the past two years, 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 will likely seek some money to get moving on the Southwest Corridor Light-Rail Transit Line.

GOLDEN VALLEY

When the city's Department of Motor Vehicles office reopened this year after being closed for 17 months following allegations of employee theft, it could no longer issue passports. While the office was closed, the U.S. State Department changed its policies and ruled that new DMV offices will not be able to issue passports.

For Golden Valley, that means a loss of about $30,000 in income each year, and it's a loss in convenience for residents, said Mayor Shep Harris. Harris said the city's view is that the DMV office isn't new but was temporarily closed. The city is working with Rep. Keith Ellison to try to get an exemption from the policy.

Golden Valley also wants state and federal funding to help with improvements to Douglas Drive that will improve traffic flow and revitalize the business corridor. Roundabouts, changes to traffic lanes, bike lanes and sidewalks, and aesthetic improvements like burying power lines are planned. The city also would like financial support from the state to begin planning improvements to make the Hwy. 169 corridor safer.

MAPLE GROVE

In Maple Grove, the city doesn't qualify to receive any local government aid, so the city's biggest request to legislators: Finally finish Hwy. 610. The project that's been going on for more than 40 years cuts across northern Maple Grove, with the last 2 1/2 miles connecting Hwy. 610 to Interstate 94 left unfinished.

Plans from the 1960s called for Hwy. 610 to connect U.S. Hwy. 10 in the north metro to I-94 to make the area more accessible. But the project has been completed piecemeal from Hwy. 10 in Coon Rapids, across the Mississippi River to Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove.

Now, Maple Grove City Manager Al Madsen said the city will push for state and federal funding this year to finally finish the roadway, which relieves some congestion off Interstates 94 and 694 and could spur more development.

"It's a tremendously important transportation link," he said. "Here it is 2 1/2 miles away from the goal line. ... Finish it off."

MINNETONKA

Transportation is also a big issue for Minnetonka, but it's not the roadways city leaders are looking to. Rather, City Manager Geralyn Barone said they'll advocate for state aid to encourage redevelopment along the proposed Southwest Light Rail Transit line. The 15-mile line has yet to get final approval or funding, but it is expected to open in 2018 and would go through Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.

Although the project is still years away, if approved, cities like Minnetonka are already looking at potential redevelopment near proposed LRT stations. Minnetonka has two possible stations where mixed-use redevelopment projects could pop up in years to come.

"The state would benefit as well to have the station development," Barone said, adding the aid to the development along the Southwest LRT line wouldn't just help Minnetonka but all five cities. "Everyone's looking for other tools the communities could use to encourage redevelopment."

The city, which doesn't receive any local government aid, will also advocate against levy limits or other legislation that could affect the city's funding.

PLYMOUTH

Like Maple Grove, Plymouth city leaders' biggest priority this year is transportation, pushing the Legislature to help fix clogged roadways. The city is working for state aid to add a third lane to Interstate 494 from Hwy. 55 to Interstate 94 -- the only portion of I-494 without a third lane.

"It's continued congestion and a problem we feel needs to be addressed," City Manager Laurie Ahrens said.

The city will also be encouraging road improvements to Hwys. 169 and 55 that are in need of repair.

"Both of these are significant priorities for the city, because it impacts our residents and businesses ... and those far removed from Plymouth," Ahrens said.

The City Council-approved legislative priorities also include advocating for maintaining local control over unfunded mandates, opposing levy limits or mandated property tax freezes, and supporting the elimination of statewide business property tax.

RICHFIELD

Local government aid historically has been a key part of Richfield's budget, but since 2001 it has dropped from 24 percent of the city's general fund revenue to less than 2 percent in 2013. City Manager Steve Devich said he wants more predictability from the state on exactly how much assistance the city will receive. In recent years, late cuts to legislative assistance have come after the city has set its tax levy, resulting in layoffs and unexpected budget cuts.

"Cities like Richfield are trying to do the best we can to get off our dependence on it, but it would be nice to know we can count on it after the amount has been certified," Devich said. "It puts us in a terrible position."

Richfield is one of the cities that gains from the fiscal disparities law, receiving about $1.6 million a year. Cities that "lose" money through that system are expected to try to change the law. Devich said Richfield opposes that unless it is part of a bigger tax overhaul.

The city also will ask to extend a tax-increment financing district near the Target/Home Depot on 66th Street to aid housing development there. And it plans to seek planning money for a 77th Street underpass at the crossing with Hwy. 77.

ROBBINSDALE

Unlike many other cities in the west metro with larger homes or more commercial areas, Robbinsdale has many more small homes and businesses, so it relies heavily on state aid. 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 semi-trailer. But $300,000 is a lot to raise for the small city, and Glick said they're just starting raise it and seek grants to help back the project.

Rochelle Olson, Mary Jane Smetanka and Kelly Smith contributed to this story.

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