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What Rochester, Southeast Minnesota Won in the Minnesota Budget

ROCHESTER – Water treatment, flood mitigation, park-and-ride and preparatory work for future projects. These are among Southeast Minnesota’s accomplishments in the Minnesota Legislature after lawmakers adjourned earlier this week.

Rochester and Olmsted County alone will see tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure funding for new facilities, while surrounding communities got millions more for water treatment plants and the flood mitigation, among other projects. Local leaders are celebrating their victories in St. Paul, but many say work remains on projects left behind by state budget bills.

Rochester won state re-approval of its longstanding local sales tax, which will prompt city officials to seek voter approval this fall to approve $205 million in tax funding. sales for street projects, flood control and water quality works, housing and a regional recreation centre.

The city also secured more than $18 million in new infrastructure funding for a park and forestry facility, a regional trail connection at Willow Creek in southeast Rochester, and a new park-and-ride facility near the Rochester Recreation Center. Lawmakers also approved language allowing the city to use $11.4 million in public funding it secured in 2020 longer than usual to upgrade Rochester International Airport over the next few years.

Yet funding for a downtown geothermal power grid, one of the city’s biggest sustainability goals, hasn’t been included in any state bills this year.

“You can’t be ungrateful because it’s wonderful to get anything,” Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said. “But we are the third largest city in Minnesota and I really thought we would have more than that.”

Norton said she was disappointed the district energy grid, which the city has scaled back since the idea was introduced two years ago, hasn’t received more support on Capitol Hill. Still, she pointed to new environmental funding past this session that Rochester may seek to help pay for geothermal energy in public and private buildings on the downtown east side. And Rochester could benefit from new government funding related to housing and homelessness.

Olmsted County secured more than $23 million in funding for a new recycling facility, an exhibition center near the Olmsted County Fairgrounds in Graham Park, and the first wave of funding for an interchange planned on Highway 13 and County Road 44 just west of Rochester.

“This funding is a critical step in finally moving us beyond the design phase and getting this project off the ground,” Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said in a statement regarding the interchange.

Commissioner Gregg Wright said county officials are ready to begin acquiring land for the interchange. The $55 million project is expected to reduce the number of accidents at the intersection from its current average of 10 to 13 per year, as well as increase road capacity for future growth. Still, Wright noted that staff are looking to see if the new transportation funding will leverage more Minnesota Department of Transportation dollars for the project.

“The $5 million will allow us to do a little more planning,” Wright said. “It’s definitely not going to get us the project.”

Nearby Kasson got $5 million for flood mitigation, something local authorities have been working towards since the city suffered two major floods in 2019.

“This is a big win for our community,” said Kasson City Administrator Timothy Ibisch.

The City of Austin got $14.5 million for a $105 million project to build a new water treatment plant, while Pine Island, Wanamingo, Goodhue and Zumbrota received $10 million dollars for the creation of a $90 million factory to cover the four communities, plus some homes in the Prairie Indian community. And the National Eagle Center in Wabasha got $8 million for an expansion.

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