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Willmar veterans home clears House bonding bill

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ST. PAUL -- A proposal to build a 90-bed nursing home in Willmar for veterans with mental illness cleared the Minnesota House on Monday.

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As part of the $200 million bonding bill, $5 million was included for the Willmar veterans home.

"It went through and it's in the bill heading to conference committee," said Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar.

"Everything on the House side is very good, and we hope we can get some affirmation in the Senate," he said.

Juhnke said he's confident Gov. Pawlenty will approve the project. "We just have to get it to his desk."

So far the Willmar project isn't in the Senate bonding bill, but Sen. Joe Gimse has secured a hearing date for April 14 in the veterans and agriculture committee.

"We're lining up the testifiers," said Gimse.

Gimse said Willmar City Councilman and veteran Jim Dokken and Kandiyohi County Veterans Service Officer Trisha Appeldorn are expected to testify, as well as Steve Renquist, economic development director for Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar.

Each will get "five minutes to tell their story," Gimse said. "It's going to be heard. We're going to fight for it," he said. "It's a worthwhile project and it'll be good for our community."

Gimse said he's "always optimistic" the project will get funded but said he's also a "realist" given the tight budget and economy.

He said lawmakers will have to weigh other funding priorities, such as flood relief, when deciding what will end up in the final bill.

Gimse said he'll request $7.9 million in bonding money for the Willmar veterans home.

The House bill would require about $3 million in local funding, Juhnke said.

The differences could be worked out in conference committee.

There are other proposals from a number of communities for veterans homes.

"I'm going to be pulling for the project in Montevideo," said Rep. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City.

He doesn't think the Senate will agree to add the Willmar veterans project this year and that the real discussion on which veterans home will get funded won't happen until next year when the state takes up its major bonding bill.

Koenen said he's been "bombarded" with questions about the competing veterans home projects and he'll be talking to community leaders about the Montevideo proposal when he's home on Easter break. "I do know that Montevideo has a good proposal," he said.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said he supports the Willmar veterans home project and it was one reason why he voted for the $200 bonding bill. But he said he wishes the bill had included more money for colleges and universities and for flood relief.

The House bill includes $12.7 million for flood mitigation.

"Frankly, I was hoping for a better bill," said Urdahl. "I wanted more money for floods."

? The House bill included a total of $895,000 for Ridgewater College for building repairs and elevator modifications. Juhnke said he didn't know if that allocation would be divided between the Willmar and Hutchinson campuses.

? The House bonding bill included $11 million for local bridge replacement. Nearly every area county will receive money to replace bridges, said Koenen.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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