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Group says water, childcare are top issues

ST. PAUL — The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) cited the need for water infrastructure and childcare as top issues heading into the 2020 Minnesota Legislative session.

Thursday, during a telephone conference call, CGMC executive Director Bradley Peterson and other CGMC members laid out the group’s legislative goals.

Peterson said Minnesota is expected to have a budget surplus this year. Combined with a bonding bill, CGMC wants to push for state funding for water infrastructure and childcare.

Gregy Zylka, mayor of Little Falls and CGMC vice president, said a cornerstone for bonding would be $200 million in water infrastructure grants. Hundreds of cities across Minnesota need to fix aging drinking and waste water facilities.

It was estimated Little Falls was looking at between $24 million and $25 million to upgrade water infrastructure. Without a source of state funding, Little Falls would need to significantly increase rates for services. Other communities were facing similar problems.

Foley City Administrator Sarah Brunn said if her city is to grow the wastewater system needs to expand. The best option is to connect the city’s wastewater with St. Cloud. This is estimated to cost $22 million. With a population of 2,600, the community would need to increase water utilities by 300% in order to pay off the expansion without state assistance.

Brunn said housing construction has been blocked in Foley until the wastewater expansion is complete because the city cannot take on additional sewer connections.

Peterson listed dozens of other Minnesota communities facing water infrastructure issues including Mankato and Redwood Falls.

“Whatever the state can do to fund water infrastructure would beneficial,” he said.

Childcare shortage was the other issue highlighted by CGMC. Peterson said a lack of childcare was a problem in communities across greater Minnesota. It was estimated 40,000 children are on waiting lists for childcare openings. This impacts the state’s workforce.

“Every kid without childcare represents a parent who wants to work but cannot,” Peterson said.

Childcare availability is also a factor in whether a family remains in a community and whether a business expands into the community.

This legislative session CGMC will advocate for $15 million from the state to develop subsidies and programs to increase access to daycare. Another $20 million will be asked for in bonding to build new daycare facilities.

Zylka said bonding for bridges and other public infrastructure was another concern for CGMC. He said bipartisan support would be needed to pass a bonding bill.

Peterson said legislators will need to talk about other topics during the session, but said they would not be judged by what was talked about, but by what they accomplished.

The 2020 Minnesota Legislature starts Feb. 11 and ends May 18.

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