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A total of 317 polar plungers braved the chilly waters of Lake Darling on Sunday. (Beth Leipholtz | Echo Press)

Plucky plungers

Thumbs Up: Way to go, plungers! The 11th annual Alexandria Polar Plunge on Lake Darling Sunday was a big success, with 317 people jumping into the freezing water and raising $82,000 for Special Olympics Minnesota. Organizers also deserve a thumbs up for coming up with a way to make the event as safe as possible while preserving the fun. A big warm-up a couple of weeks ago made ice conditions less than ideal, so this year, officials cut open an area of ice close to shore and the plungers walked out on the ice, splashed into the water and ran toward shore. It was an exhilarating fundraiser for a very good cause.

Budget news

Thumbs Up: Good news came out of the Minnesota Management and Budget Tuesday. The state budget forecast, which is used by legislators to set the budget for the next two years, projects a surplus of $1.65 billion, up from the last forecast of $1.4 billion. There will be a lot of groups fighting for a bigger piece of the pie but in our view, one of the biggest priorities should be restoring local government aid. This aid is a lifeline for non-metro cities by helping them pay for essential services such as police and fire protection. It also helps rural cities keep property taxes lower for residents and businesses. Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said that with the new budget forecast, the Legislature and governor have no excuses for not passing a $45.5 million increase in aid this year. "LGA is the single most important state program to help communities hold down property taxes and pay for key city services that affect all of our residents and businesses," said Carlson in a news release. "The CGMC's top priority this legislative session is bringing LGA funding back up to its 2002 benchmark. A modest increase of $45.5 million will get us there. With (the) budget announcement, there is no reason why our rural legislators can't use their influence to make this LGA increase happen this session."

Sidewalk blockers

Thumbs Down: An Alexandria resident shared his pet peeve: People who park in driveways but end up blocking the sidewalk because they didn't pull far enough ahead. To get around them, pedestrians using the sidewalks or those with wheelchairs have to venture out in the street, often encountering mounds of snow and ice in the process. "It's a sidewalk, not a driveway," the resident said.

Grassroots government

Thumbs Up: This is an advance "thumbs up" for township residents who take the time to vote during their township election on Tuesday, March 14. In Douglas County, 18 of the 20 townships will have elections. The exceptions are in Brandon and Miltona townships, which hold elections in the fall of even-numbered years. Township residents can take their citizenry a step further by attending their annual township meeting, which in most townships, takes place shortly after the polls close. It's a chance to learn how township dollars are being spent, whether the township tax levy will be going up or down, and find out if there are any pressing matters the township is dealing with. Townships are often referred to as grassroots government — the form of government that is closest to common people. Even if there isn't a contested race in your township, you should still take the time to vote, get involved and make your opinion count.

Engineering careers for women

Thumbs Up: Bipartisan bills to encourage, recruit and support women in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — were signed into law Feb. 28. Sen. Amy Klobuchar's bills authorize the National Aeronautics and Space Administration administrator to encourage women to study STEM and pursue careers in aerospace through NASA initiatives. "Women are the teachers, engineers, scientists and inventors who will carry us into a brighter future," Klobuchar said in a news release. "By encouraging women and tapping their talents and abilities, employers can better meet their hiring needs, and women can enjoy the benefits of well-paying jobs in STEM fields. These new laws will help women contribute more to their families' financial well-being — and the benefits will help our whole economy."

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