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Making a statement: County supports two major economic development projects

WILLMAR –– The Kandiyohi County Commissioners have thrown their financial support behind two major economic development projects in Willmar, including one that could end up pulling money away from planned county road projects.

At their meeting Tuesday, the Commissioners unanimously agreed to make a financial commitment of $459,279 that would go towards a project to reroute 45th Street north and south of U.S. Highway 12 as part of a proposal to create a railroad bypass and spur for BNSF west of Willmar.

The board had previously signed a memorandum of understanding to support the concept of the project. On Tuesday they agreed to back that up with road and bridge money.

The financial commitment will be part of a statement of support from local entities, including the city of Willmar that’s providing land valued at $280,000, and used in a grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery’’ (TIGER) program.

The county’s financial contribution is a drop in the bucket to the overall project cost of about $50 million, but the show of unified local support could be vital for being awarded the grant, said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.

Promising county funds to move roads to accommodate the railroad plan wasn’t an easy sell.

Commissioner Roger Imdieke said he was comfortable dedicating about $300,000 to the project, based on information from Public Works Director Gary Danielson that the street needs to be improved even if the BNSF project doesn’t go ahead, in order to handle a higher-than-expected traffic load.

But Imdieke initially balked at the $459,279 for plan A, as well as the $1.1 million for plan B that includes rerouting 45th street and reconfiguring County Road 55.

Imdieke also said he felt “rushed into this decision” after getting a first look at the financial implications this week.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the county received the information about local roads and costs late last week. “We’re not trying to catch you off guard,” he said, acknowledging it would have been nice to have had more time to discuss details. Kleindl said the April 28 deadline to submit the grant application required the board to make a decision now.

If the grant and project are approved, Danielson said the county will have to cut or delay other county road projects, raise taxes or issue a bond in order to cover the new costs.

Madsen said projects have been delayed before because of new situations. He said if the BNSF spur helps bring a new business to Willmar’s Industrial Park — or prevents a business from leaving — the county investment would be well worth it.

The county funds would be a “small investment for our community” that could provide “long term growth” for the business community, said Madsen.

The board agreed to hold a road and bridge meeting at 8:30 a.m. April 28 to discuss the five-year construction plan, which could include discussion on what projects would be delayed and discussion on issuing a bond to plug a financial shortfall that’s expected even without additional costs associated with the railroad project.

Mike Couse, an engineer for the BNSF project, said construction could begin as early as 2015 if the grant is approved.

“It is moving very quickly,” said Couse.

The Commissioners also heard from Willmar City Planner Bruce Peterson about a proposed tax increment financing project to assist Jennie-O Turkey Store with an expansion of their corporate office.

Under the eight-year TIF plan, Kandiyohi County will forfeit $45,398 in annual tax payments for a total of $363,184. The city’s annual share is $27,239 and the Willmar School District’s is $9,905.

The TIF funds will reimburse the company for up-front costs for soil correction, roadway removal, utility relocation and storm water control.

The TIF only affects taxes on the new improvements. Current taxes will continue to be paid.

After eight years, local government entities will receive full tax payments from the company.

Madsen said he was pleased the company has chosen to expand its corporate headquarters in Willmar.

Peterson said the expansion, which has an estimated market value of $4 million, will bring 90 jobs to Willmar.

However, 60 of those jobs are currently housed in the Green Lake Mall in Spicer, just a few miles north of Willmar.

The Willmar City Council will hold a public hearing on the TIF proposal on May 5.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750