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Kandiyohi County Board meets with legislators

WILLMAR — During a face-to-face dialogue Tuesday with local legislators, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners left no doubt about their priorities: infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure.

The half-hour discussion with Sen. Lyle Koenen and Rep. Dave Baker ranged over several issues, from legislation on waterway buffer strips to the elimination of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Citizens Board.

But it was roads and broadband that resonated the loudest with the Kandiyohi County Commissioners.

Both are key to the economic and civic health of rural Minnesota, they said.

“We cannot neglect that,” said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.

The 2015 legislative session and subsequent special session delivered some disappointments on both fronts, however. Lawmakers were unable to come to an agreement on a transportation bill that could have moved the state forward on some of its highway improvement needs. There also was minimal progress on narrowing the high-speed Internet gap that exists across large swaths of rural Minnesota.

Reliable access to broadband is critical in attracting people to live and work in rural communities as well as helping businesses function effectively, said Commissioner Roger Imdieke.

Slowdowns and interruptions in Internet service happen “far too often,” he said. “When our Internet doesn’t work, we’re dead in the water.”

Madsen had strong words for the Legislature’s inability to pass a transportation bill that’s more than a short-term Band-Aid.

Continuing to focus on preservation of existing roads at the expense of improvements and taking a short-term approach is the equivalent of throwing money away, he said. “We’re pennywise and pound-foolish with this.”

Koenen and Baker acknowledged that passing a transportation bill with a workable funding mechanism is necessary.

Under the current structure, funding simply hasn’t kept pace with needs or costs, Koenen said. “You can see that it’s not keeping up.”

Baker said he wants to see an “iron-clad, long-term sustainable system” for Minnesota’s infrastructure.

Making this happen is his No. 1 goal for the 2016 session, he told the commissioners. “I don’t want to come home next year without a good road bill.”

The county commissioners singled out mental health as one of the most-welcomed accomplishments during this year’s session.

Although there’s still work to do, “it was a great progression,” said Commissioner Doug Reese.

The commissioners also said they appreciated their legislators’ work to pass an avian flu emergency relief bill. Kandiyohi County has been hit the hardest by the deadly pathogen, which appeared in the state this spring.

With a short 10-week session next year, Koenen and Baker are having meetings and conversations to help pave the way for the session.

This year’s session was marked at the start by a positive working relationship between the House and the Senate, Koenen said. “I think it helped move things along much more smoothly.”

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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