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Sen. Saxhaug and Reps. Persell and Erickson hear commissioners' concerns

BEMIDJI -- Beltrami County Commissioners have started planning for the 2014 legislative session before 2013 comes to a close.

Senator Tom Saxhaug (DFL-District 2) and Representatives John Persell (DFL-District 5A) and Roger Erickson (DFL-District 2A) joined commissioners to discuss the county’s needs on Tuesday.

“We just want to review some things and find out what you’re thinking of in terms of what we should be doing down there,” Saxhaug told the board.

The 2014 legislative session begins Feb. 20. Saxhaug said it’s important for legislators to visit local leaders to show their support at the end of each session.

Commissioners expressed concern about funding for infrastructure, pointing out the reason the wheelage tax will be dissolved in Beltrami County and the half-percent sales tax was adopted was because money isn’t coming in from the state to help fix the roads. If the roads aren’t repaired, it could affect the area as a tourist attraction.

County aid for 2014-2015 is expected to be increased by $3 million, Saxhaug said, adding Payments In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funds have also increased.

Commissioner Jim Lucachick asked how is it that after “sucking air” for so long the funding increased.

“The Minnesota economy is one of the fastest growing and most robust economies right now in the United States,” Saxhaug said.

“There are a lot of Minnesota businesses that are doing quite well, exponentially better, in sales and business in supporting the extraction of oil from the fields,” Commissioner Jack Frost acknowledged.

Spin-off business from the North Dakota oil fields and pipelines were identified as contributors to the economy’s growth.

“We’ve got one of the finest groups of mining vendors in the United States on the Iron Range, that have been going for years to work in coal fields of North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming,” Saxhaug added. “It’s just natural. We’ve got a great highway here. Highway 2 sends them right out there.”

“A number of entities that you’ve addressed though, all use roads and our infrastructure is in dire straits. Not just in Beltrami County but throughout the state,” said Commissioner Richard Anderson.

In addition to road repair, veteran services is on the commissioners radar.

Persell said plans for veteran’s homes in Minnesota won’t proceed until fiscal matters are worked out on the federal level. For 2014, Persell foresees planning rather than continually filling nursing home beds with veterans.

“As long as I’m in the House, that ain't going to happen,” Persell said.

“If we don’t take care of veterans, we should stop making them,” Commissioner Joe Vene agreed.

Erickson said synthetic drugs, MNsure, the senate office building, capitol restoration and the gas tax are other topics that will be looked at in the upcoming session.

“I’m not sure anything’s going to happen with [the gas tax] this year,” Erickson said. “I can see something with that in 2015.”

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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