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Echo Press Editorial: Increased LGA is wise investment in rural cities

It’s time to give cities in Greater Minnesota their due.

State funding for cities – local government aid (LGA) – has been frozen and cut since the early 2000s until it was increased in 2013. And now, a new bipartisan legislative proposal would finally restore LGA to its 2002 funding level.

Senate File 874, authored by Senator Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, and House File 685, authored by a legislator who represents part of Douglas County, Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, would add $45.5 million to the LGA program over the next two years. It amounts to $22.75 million in both 2016 and 2017.

This is not a case of simply throwing more money at something with the hope it will do some good. It’s a wise investment that will help rural Minnesota families.

When the Legislature reformed the LGA formula in 2013 and increased the funding, it allowed cities to reinvest in infrastructure, make long-overdue equipment purchases, fill vacant positions and grant moderate salary and benefit increases to employees.

It also helped keep property taxes in check. Last year was the third-lowest increase in city property tax levies, statewide, in the past 25 years. Even with that much-needed boost, however, cities are still recovering from the LGA cuts since the start of the decade. The LGA program still receives 9 percent less funding than it did in 2002.

Anderson and Koenen’s legislation would fully restore LGA to its previous funding level, providing rural cities with the resources they need to address critical needs while tamping down property taxes.

LGA is crucial to non-metro, regional hubs such as Alexandria. Ninety percent of the cities in Minnesota depend on LGA.

Heidi Omerza, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and a member of the Ely City Council, describes LGA as the lifeblood of Greater Minnesota communities. “It allows cities to provide infrastructure and critical services like police and fire protection, snow removal and libraries while helping to keep property taxes low,” she said. “When the LGA program is underfunded, cities and residents across the state suffer.”

The timing for an increased investment in LGA couldn’t be better. Last week, the state received news of a nearly $2 billion surplus.

The Legislature should seize the opportunity to fully restore LGA. It should do this by not looking at the issue as a “metro versus rural” showdown but as timely investment that will benefit the entire state and the communities, families and businesses that call Minnesota home.

This has been an Echo Press Editorial by the Echo Press Editorial Board. The Echo Press Editorial Board consists of Tara Bitzan, Editor; Jody Hanson, Publisher; and Al Edenloff, News/Opinion Editor.

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