BY SUE WEBBER
Two Minnesota legislators and a Metropolitan Council representative made presentations to the Maple Grove City Council Feb. 21.
Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers), the Majority Leader in the Minnesota House of Representatives, and Rep. Dennis Smith (R-Maple Grove), spoke together on some of the highlights of the current legislative session.
Both legislators said they are committed to continuing work on priority bills for Maple Grove, including those dealing with Brockton Lane and the Highway 610 project
“A bill completing [Highway] 610 has been reintroduced into the official hopper and will be on the House floor Wednesday [Feb. 22] for introduction,” Smith said. “It will be referred to committee to complete Highway 610 and Highway 30 over the bridge.”
Smith said he did not sign on to House Bill 1149, regarding trunk bonds for Highway 610 and Interstate 94. “The bill doesn’t really respond to the needs of Maple Grove and our community,” he said. “A bill I am introducing [Feb. 22] is more comprehensive. We worked with city staff so the bill really meets the needs of our area.”
The bill, Smith said, includes four additional access lanes connecting Highway 610 and I-94; takes Highway 30 all the way to the bridge; and calls for auxiliary lanes from Brockton to Highway 610 that will “really help with the traffic flow.”
“We’re very, very happy to have [Highway] 610 open at last in the community,” Mayor Mark Steffenson said. But, he added, “One of the ramifications has been that most evenings Highway 610 and I-94 are backed up into Fish Lake interchange because of additional traffic on Highway 610. We obviously need additional auxiliary lanes that flow into Brockton.”
Peppin said, “I hope we can integrate the two projects and make progress on both. I’ve sparked Brockton for the last 10 years, and Rep. Smith has sparked the Highway 610 project.”
Since the session began Jan. 2, Peppin said, “It’s been going at a very fast pace, faster than normal.”
Producing a balanced budget is the Legislature’s top priority, she said.
The committee deadline has been moved up to March 31, Peppin said, “to make sure we’ll have an opportunity to work with the governor. If he vetoes [the budget bill], we’ll have time to continue working with him so we don’t have to have a special session.”
Steffenson said, “I hope the budget bill will actually be signed this year, instead of vetoed.”
The House also is considering a number of bills dealing with health care and the rising cost of insurance, Peppin said.
Smith told the council he is carrying a bill for “real ID,” that will allow people to fly on an airplane, go into certain government buildings, power plants and military facilities.
“It will be an opt-in program, or for the same cost you can get the same driver’s license you have today and use a different document to fly,” Smith said.
A Tax Increment Financing (TIF) bill Smith carried during the last legislative session is being reintroduced, he said. “I’m looking forward to it being a part of the tax bill later this session,” he said.
Katie Rodriguez, Metropolitan Council
In addition to Maple Grove, Katie Rodriguez, the District 1 representative to the Metropolitan Council since July 2013, serves the cities of Corcoran, Dayton, Greenfield, Independence, Loretto, Maple Plain, Medicine Lake, Medina, Plymouth and Rogers.
With a background of 10 years in municipal finance, she said, “My favorite part is dealing with cities. My mom and grandma were both city managers.”
According to Rodriguez, the 16-member Met Council, a regional planning agency, “saves the region money every day.”
The Met Council provides 90 percent of the transit rides in the seven-county metro area; serves 100 client communities in housing and redevelopment; oversees wastewater treatment for 90 percent of the region’s households; and is responsible for public assistance to families and regions in 50 percent of the communities.
“The council studies population, demographic and resource trends and crafts large regional plans,” Rodriguez said. “We plan for growth and development for the next 30 years.”
By 2040, the Met Council region is projected to have 800,000 more residents and 500,000 more jobs than it did in 2010, Rodriguez said.
“That’s like adding two more Minneapolis cities, or 11 cities the size of Maple Grove,” she said.
In 2010, one person in nine in the region was over the age of 65. By 2040, one in five will be over 65, she said.
Diversity is projected to increase, also. In 2010, 24 percent of the region’s population was of color. In 2040, that number is projected to be 40 percent.
Maple Grove’s stated 2010 population of 61,567 is expected to reach 89,700 by 2040, according to Rodriguez. The city’s 22,867 households in 2010 will increase to 33,100 in 2040. Employees, estimated at 29,877 in 2010, will expand to 47,000 in 2040.
The region’s bus fares haven’t been increased since 2008, according to Rodriguez. As mandated by federal law, the agency provides Metro Mobility for people who are disabled or have health problems. That service, which is growing by between 5 and 9 percent each year, costs $24 per passenger to operate, compared with $1.67 per person to operate light rail, she said.
There are some long-term funding challenges ahead, Rodriguez said.
“All appropriations will go to Metro Mobility by 2021,” Rodriguez said. “There will be no more for light rail or buses. We’re having trouble hiring drivers at the current contract rates.”
In a consent agenda item, the council “accepted with much regret” the retirement of Finance Director Jim Knutson, and authorized staff to begin the recruitment process for his replacement.
“Jim has been an outstanding, highly dedicated and trusted member of our leadership team and has served the city well in his 12-plus years as the finance director,” said a memo to the council from the Human Resources director. “He has been instrumental in helping to create a solid financial position for the city and has been a good steward of the public funds and a truly dedicated public servant. We wish Jim the very best as he begins this new phase of his life.”
Councilmember Phil Leith said, “I’d like to say no. Over the last 12 years, Jim has done a phenomenal job of keeping the city in great financial shape. We’ve had a AAA rating every year.”