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Bemidji plays key role in Legacy grant planning

ST. PAUL — A new statewide commission that met for the first time in St. Paul on Monday is planning major changes to the way Legacy Amendment grants for parks and trails are distributed in greater Minnesota — and Bemidji has a seat at the table.

Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht serves as a regional delegate to the newly formed Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission. The group’s major aim, Albrecht said, is to create criteria to decide which parks are eligible for the money provided by a 2008 amendment to Minnesota’s constitution that uses a sales tax to fund projects that help preserve the state’s heritage, informally called the Legacy Amendment.

Having the criteria set in place will hopefully aid in routing money from the state officials and legislators sifting through dozens and dozens of requests to the local officials seeking aid for their projects.

On Monday, Albrecht and 12 other delegates from around greater Minnesota met as a commission for the first time to discuss their goals.

Albrecht said one of her tasks coming out of the meeting is to help choose at least five additional people in the region qualified to informally advise the commission on what the needs of individual communities are locally. The idea is also for local officials as a whole to have a better understanding of what the state government’s grant expectations are, Albrecht said.

"It’s really giving a voice in the folks in the greater Minnesota region, to say ‘Here’s what we think is important,’ " she said.

Bemidji Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson spent two years as head of the Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails Coalition, a precursor of the new commission. Larson said the commission’s work will improve the process of getting grant money for local projects, and help connect Bemidji with other communities in the region.

"Bemidji is a regional center," she said. "Having a funding mechanism in place that understands regional centers and ways to improve our parks… is huge for Bemidji."

Douglas County Parks Superintendent Donald "Al" Lieffort was chosen to lead the commission. He said although there is no explicitly defined timeline, the goal is to have the new criteria done by early next spring so grant applicants have enough time to factor into the next cycle of grant planning.

"It might be a stretch to hope that we could have projects fitting those criteria by fall next year, but that’s what we’re going to shoot for," he said.

Another key function of the commission is to submit a prioritized list of project recommendations to the legislators in charge of allocating Legacy Amendment money, Lieffort said. The target is to submit the first list by January 2015, in time for the next biennial Legacy appropriations bill, he said.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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