On a trip city leaders took last week to St. Paul, East Grand Forks Mayor Steve Gander said he testified in support of a bill that could give his city more state funding.
Authored by Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, and Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, House Bill 1131 asks the state to change its formula for Local Government Aid, money the Legislature designates each year from the general fund to help local governments cover operational costs.
The formula determines need by multiplying the number of pre-1940 housing by 100, and then dividing that number by the number of all other housing in the city.
Because East Grand Forks lost a significant amount of its pre-1940 housing in the Flood of 1997, Kiel's bill asks the state to instead consider the city's pre-1970 housing.
Senate Bill 1162 from Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, is a companion bill asking for the same changes. The Senate has yet to hear any bills asking for LGA formula changes.
"With that testimony to the committee, we're hopeful it'll be rolled into the tax bill on the side of the House," Gander told the council Tuesday night. "It'll come also on the side of the Senate, it'll be reconciled, it'll be brought hopefully for the full vote and signed by the governor."
The East Grand Forks group, consisting of Gander, Council President Mark Olstad, council member Marc DeMers and City Administrator David Murphy, testified Wednesday to the House Property and Local Tax Committee. That committee will likely roll all of the LGA formula changes it approves into one large tax bill for the whole House to vote on later.
Gary Carlson, a lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Cities, said he predicts that larger tax bill will be created within the next two to three weeks.
"In addition to these more city-specific adjustments to the formula, like the East Grand Forks provision, the governor and, on a bipartisan basis, legislators, have supported putting as much as an additional $30 million into the LGA formula," Carlson said. Current estimates predict the city won't benefit from that added boost under the current formula.
Under the current LGA formula, the league predicts East Grand Forks will lose $88,760 in 2020. With formula changes, it will gain $93,035, adding up to almost $2.3 million total for the city that year.
"We may need to return, either for some House testimony or on the Senate side, so we have our ear to the rail," Gander said Tuesday. "We have staff on the ground down there, every day, all the time, listening and kind of feeling the pulse of things in St. Paul for us."
In other news
• Council members agreed to authorize Widseth Smith Nolting to create a master plan on improvements for the LaFave Park area, costing no more than $6,000. During a work session March 12, Parks and Recreation Superintendent Reid Huttunen highlighted the park's potential significance as the city competes to host the next available Governor's Fishing Opener.
• The council also voted to upgrade its website plan with CivicPlus, costing about $5,600.
• Gander declared a local state of emergency in light of the forecasted floods expected to take place this spring. The emergency will remain until the Red River returns to a flood stage of 28 feet.