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Help needed for small towns to thrive

Legislation that would create jobs in small towns, make sanitary sewer projects affordable in low-income communities and reduce liability insurance so that small ski hills can operate are some of the issues local legislators will be promoting at the Capitol next year.

The 2007 session begins Wednesday.

Area lawmakers agree that statewide issues like reforming health care, increasing funding for education and transportation and property tax relief will occupy much of the legislators' time next year.

But legislators have more localized projects they're also eager to work on.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said he thinks "the time might be right" for legislators to pass a "catch-up credit" bill that would provide tax credits for new jobs in small towns. The bill is specifically designed to help 54 Minnesota counties that have a low population and low rate of job growth.

The provision would give manufacturing businesses a state tax credit for every new job that's created. Each county could grant up to $150,000 in such tax credits under the bill. The jobs have to be in effect for one full year before the tax credit is given and the new jobs must have a wage of at least $10 per hour, he said.

Urdahl said the Job Opportunity Building Zone program, commonly referred to as JOBZ, has been successful for larger businesses, but the new job requirements were too stiff for many small-town businesses. The new bill would "almost pay for itself, "Urdahl said, with new job revenue offsetting any lost taxes.

While creating five new jobs in a county may not seem like much to large communities, it can create a string of positive economic effects in small ones.

Urdahl also said he thinks there's bipartisan support for another tax credit program he's promoted during the last several sessions that would give dairy farmers a financial incentive to expand their herds.

Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, said he'll be working on legislation that will help towns like Brooten pay for sanitary sewer projects.

Heidgerken said Brooten's lagoon is at capacity and in violation of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency regulations but the town can't afford to make improvements. He said a low-interest loan has been approved for the town and it's "on the front burner" for money from a future bonding bill.

He said other small towns, including St. Martin, are also struggling to charge low-income residents enough to pay for new systems and that legislation is needed to make more state funding available for sanitary sewer systems in small towns.

Heidgerken said he'll be going to bat for the ski hill in Glenwood, which can't operate because of high liability costs. He said if Minnesota adopted the less restrictive federal liability standards, small ski hills could afford to operate.

Heidgerken said half of the state's ski hills have closed in the last 20 years and only a dozen remain in operation.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750