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County will offer cities federal recovery bonds to spur economic development

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Commissioners are hesitant to use federal recovery zone bonds as an economic development tool for themselves, but they agreed Tuesday to extend the offer to municipalities in the county.

The county has access to $522,000 in bonding authority for public infrastructure and $783,000 in bonding authority to assist private industry. The bonds are part of the federal stimulus package to bring economic recovery to entities experiencing significant poverty, unemployment, home foreclosures or general distress.

Because of restrictions with the bonds and a fear that being labeled "in distress" could harm the county's good bond rating, County Administrator Larry Kleindl recommended that the county not use the bonds.

"There are too many strings and too many unknowns," said Kleindl. "It might send a wrong message to our bonding companies."

If it doesn't use the financing mechanism, the county has the option to allocate the bonds to cities in the county, or return them to the state.

Considering that some neighboring counties, like Chippewa, Yellow Medicine, Pope and Renville Counties weren't awarded any recovery zone bonds, Commissioner Harlan Madsen was reluctant to simply return the county's share back to the state.

Madsen said the county should let the cities know about the bonding option and ask if they have a need for such funding.

If that happens, the cities would apply to the county for the bonds.

Kleindl said if a small town applied for the bonds because of economic need, it may not affect the county's rating. But if a large population center like Willmar sought the funding, Kleindl is concerned it could still hurt the county's financial status.

As long as the county wouldn't be harmed, Madsen said cities should be made aware of the bonds and be given the option to use them.

Counties have until Dec. 31, 2010 to use the bonds.

"We've got a window of opportunity of 15 months to work with this," said Commissioner Richard Larson. "Let's study it and leave it open."

Kleindl said he would send letters to cities informing them about the recovery bonds and would inquire about their need and desire to use them.

In other action:

? The Commissioners were given an update on the county's emergency and influenza plan of action, including the possibility of a mass clinic for vaccinations, a "flu center" and ways to respond if community medical facilities became over-loaded because of a wide-spread influenza out-break. The county's public health program is working with local medical staff and schools to develop the plan.

? The Commissioners were told the Kandiyohi County Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Coalition from Willmar received a $625,000 federal grant to prevent and reduce alcohol and other drug abuse among youth. The funding will be spread over five years. The county is the fiscal agent for the grant. The PACT 4 Families Collaborative will conduct the student surveys that are a required part of the grant.

? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife's request for $3,000 from the Kandiyohi County water planning task force was approved to assist with restoring Rasmuss Lake and two wetlands two to three miles north of Willmar along County Road 5.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750