Moving forward

Marshall water plant benefits from state bonding bill

Photo by Deb Gau Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, and Marshall Municipal Utilities General Manager Brad Roos visited the water plant on Wednesday.

MARSHALL — When Gov. Tim Walz signed his first two bills this week, it was good news for a number of public works projects in southwest Minnesota — including a major addition to Marshall’s water treatment plant.

A planned water softening project is in line to receive $7 million in grant funding. The project couldn’t have moved forward without the bonding bill Walz signed on Tuesday, said Marshall Municipal Utilities General Manager Brad Roos.

“We are now a certified project,” Roos said, and MMU can start the bid process. The total $10.6 million project will allow MMU to pre-treat Marshall water with lime and soda ash, and reduce water hardness to about 6 grains. “Which is much softer water than we currently get,” Roos said.

Softer water would mean less softener salt ending up in city wastewater, and help Marshall meet stricter environmental standards.

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, who made a visit to Marshall on Wednesday, said the governor and state legislators recognized the importance of the infrastructure and environmental projects funded by the $102.3 million bonding bill.

“These projects are just so crucial,” Frans said. “Everyone realized, we have to get this bill passed.”

Some of the projects included in the bill had been funded in the last legislative session, but were then left hanging over the source of the money. Legislators were originally going to tap into an environmental trust fund that uses state lottery money, but environmental groups sued, saying the fund wasn’t meant to pay for infrastructure projects. The bill Walz signed this week issues the funding as general obligation bonds instead.

Infrastructure and environmental projects, like the water plant expansion, are major positives for Minnesota communities. Frans said Walz’s 2019 budget proposal also tried to focus on giving communities more local-level resources to help them prosper.

“(Gov. Walz) wanted the budget to really help the primary areas of education, health care and communities,” Frans said.

During his visit to Marshall, Frans discussed the state budget process and Walz’s budget proposal, which was unveiled in February. Frans said the $49.471 billion budget proposal includes an increased amount of Local Government Aid and County Program Aid.

“We thought those are critical,” Frans said. State aid would go back to its 2002 levels.

At the local level, the proposal would mean an LGA increase of 5.5 percent, or about $135,000, for the city of Marshall. State aid for Lyon County would increase 13.3 percent, or about $127,000, Frans said.

Other parts of the proposal, like a 20-cent gas tax increase, and increases for both vehicle registration fees and motor vehicle sales tax, might not go over as well. However, Frans said, the positive thing about the gas tax is that it is a constitutionally dedicated source of funding for transportation infrastructure, and one that wouldn’t take money from the state’s general fund.

Frans said later this month and into April will be the time to see how debate over the state budget goes.

“We’re going to go into this optimistic,” Frans said of the budget process.