Ramsey pushes for tax breaks and road funding | Government

The Ramsey City Council passed two resolutions Feb. 8 framing the city’s priorities for this legislative session.

The first resolution listing the city’s legislative priorities broke down the policies into Ramsey’s top, high and other priorities. It passed 4-2 with Council Members Matt Woestehoff and Chelsee Howell dissenting.

The second resolution, which passed unanimously, urged legislators to pass a law that would prevent the state from taxing federal Paycheck Protection Program money.

The top priority for the city is fully funding the U.S. Highway 10 Ramsey Gateway project, according to a draft of the legislative initiatives. The project would replace the signalized intersections at Ramsey and Sunfish Lake boulevards with two grade-separated interchanges, construct grade separation from the BNSF railway and build a frontage road between the boulevards.

The project is currently in the preliminary design phase, and construction is scheduled to begin in 2023. So far about 60% ($138 million) of the estimated cost of the project has been secured.

Ramsey has five high priority items. First is an extension to The COR’s tax increment financing district deadline. The COR, or the Center of Ramsey, is the city’s transit-oriented development near City Hall.

The city would like to see a bill that extends the deadline for approving projects — which normally have to be approved in the first five years of the TIF district, according to council documents.

The extension would be important for continued improvements to Bunker Lake Boulevard. The city also needs to bring in a significant amount of fill to make the northwest quadrant of The COR ready for development, according to council documents.

Another high priority is state funding for a water treatment plant. Construction on the proposed $32 million to $36.5 million plant is expected to begin this fall, according to city documents.

The city decided to construct the plant after elevated levels of manganese were found in Ramsey drinking water in 2019.

Two priorities are for sales tax exemption on the city’s public works campus and water treatment plant. The public works campus cost approximately $17.3 million, according to council documents.

A final high priority is a technical correction to the fire relief pension bill. The correction is needed to facilitate dissolving the Nowthen/Ramsey joint fire services contract, according to council documents.

The remaining priorities include funding for non-state aid city streets, the governance of the Metropolitan Council, local government aid and the governor’s emergency powers.

Debate among council members focused on the policy goal aimed at curbing Gov. Tim Walz’s powers and allowing more local control. Howell wanted to move the priority up the list.

“A lot of folks just don’t, they don’t have the time, they’re running out of finances and they’re under significant stress with their businesses,” Howell said.

Woestehoff argued for removing the local control priority entirely, saying it was too broad and had “zero substance to it.”

“I would prefer to have that a little bit more fleshed out before we present it, because to me that is also, to a certain extent, a very partisan dessert at a buffet of food where our legislators may focus on that rather than the important things,” Woestehoff said.

Ramsey also is looking for greater assistance in maintaining city streets. It has three recommendations for improving street maintenance.

First, the city wants Minnesota to establish a dedicated and sustainable funding source for roads not designated as state aid roads. Second, Ramsey wants legislation that would allow the establishment of street improvement districts, where the cost of maintenance and repair would be assessed to residents within the district.

The third suggestion by the city is for the state to create a grant fund for assisting cities burdened by cost participation requirements in trunk highway and county state-aid projects, according to the draft priorities.

Ramsey also wants greater accountability for the Metropolitan Council. The city recommended that local governments have a say in appointing council representatives or that locally elected officials be members themselves. In addition, the city suggested staggering terms of office for better continuity of governance.

The City Council also reaffirmed its support for the local government aid and fiscal disparities system, while recommending revisions that recognize the needs of developing suburbs, according to the draft policies.

The council unanimously passed a resolution supporting two companion bills that would keep the state from taxing the federal Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were forgivable loans intended to help small businesses struggling due to the pandemic. Without the bills, PPP loans would be taxed as income by the state, but passing the bills would result in a $400 million drop in revenue for the state, City Administrator Kurt Ulrich said.

Council Member Chris Riley, who is also a certified public accountant, argued that while the change may result in lost tax revenue, the state should not rely on that revenue.

“It’s kind of perverse, because Minnesota would have never counted on this money coming in, because it didn’t exist before, except for the federal government gave out money to save these businesses,” Riley said.

Woestehoff spoke in favor of the resolution, because of how it supports businesses and is a specific action the city can support, he said.

Council Member Debra Musgrove spoke in favor of the resolution, calling the current situation an example of how the state wants to take more money from residents.