WILLMAR — It took nearly a year, but the 2020 state bonding bill finally found its way to Gov. Tim Walz's desk this week. Following passage in both the state House of Representatives and the Senate, Walz has indicated he will sign the $1.9 billion infrastructure bill into law.
Included in the package is funding for projects at both Prairie Lakes Youth Programs and the brand new Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Services facilities in Willmar.
Prairie Lakes, a juvenile detention center owned and operated by Kandiyohi, Chippewa, Yellow Medicine, Lac qui Parle and Swift counties, is slated to receive $2.5 million for the construction of an indoor recreation and educational building to be constructed adjacent to its current facility located on the MinnWest Technology Campus.
The center has needed such a space for nearly 30 years. In its present-day situation, there is little space for recreational opportunities for adolescents when the weather is bad. There is also a great need for additional space in the school portion of the center.
"It would be a good thing for us," said Darin Balken, executive director at Prairie Lakes.
The bill actually awards the center significantly more money than the $1,058,000 originally requested back in October 2019. Balken said it became known the project would cost more than first thought, and the state request was increased accordingly. Even with the increase in state bonding money, Balken said Prairie Lakes will still need to find additional financing before the project can begin construction.
CABHS secured its entire request of $1.75 million for the construction of a large motor activity and ancillary space at the new facility in Willmar. This project will also include playground equipment and landscaping. CABHS Director Michael Gallagher thanked the community and the legislature for the support.
“Recreational activity is a vital part of any child’s physical, mental and emotional development. This funding will help create the space our young patients need for all-around development, contribute to effective therapeutic mental health treatment, and help them to learn and practice coping skills that can decrease their symptoms and improve their overall well-being," Gallagher said in a statement to the West Central Tribune. "We’re really excited to be able to add this space – it really puts this building into a class of its own and enables us to dramatically improve the quality of care to the children of Minnesota.”
Other regional projects that obtained funding in the approved bill included $17 million in Flood Hazard Mitigation Grant Assistance Program which will assist cities, including Montevideo, with flood risk reduction projects and $5 million for community recreation improvements for the city of Litchfield.
The Minnesota State Colleges and University system will get $46.3 million in Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funding that will be used for building projects across the system. This could include projects at the Ridgewater College campuses in Willmar and/or Hutchinson. The approved allocation in the bill is much less than Walz's recommendation of $142.5 million, made back in January.
The bonding bill passed the House of Representatives in a vote of 100-34, with yes votes from 25 Republicans, including Representative Dave Baker, R-Willmar, Representative Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, and Representative Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck.
Representative Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, voted no on the House bonding bill.
"I was glad to support this bonding bill because it will be bringing some really needed things for kids back to our district," Baker said. " Senator (Andrew) Lang and I worked hard on those bills and we are really happy they were included in the final draft of the bill."
Baker also said it was one of the hardest votes he had to make, because of the looming budget deficit the state is facing, due to the coronavirus pandemic. In Baker's opinion, this is probably the last major investment bill the state will pass until its financial standing improves.
"I think this is the last big investment for some time," Baker said.
In addition to all the infrastructure and capital projects, the bonding bill also included changes to state tax rules that allow businesses, including farmers, to deduct the purchase of large equipment, something Baker said will assist area farmers.
"Overall it was a good compromise bill," Baker said.
The entire bill will act as a stimulus package for Minnesota Baker said, as it includes millions of dollars in construction projects.
"It is a day a lot of Minnesotans will get employed," Baker said.