Brown County Congress mulls variety of issues

SLEEPY EYE – Minnesota Republican legislators Paul Torkelson and Gary Dahms discussed a variety of issues with constituents Friday at the Brown County Congress in the Rural Electrical Association (REA) Auditorium.

A new $63 million office building and $27 million parking ramp proposed to be built north of the Capitol drew the ire of many. Republicans say the building is too expensive, that it didn’t get a public airing and that its financing violates a state requirement that state debt get super-majority legislative support, while some Democrats say the building should be bigger.

The project came to light due to a Capitol restoration project in the summer of 2015 that would trade 23,000 square feet of Senate office space for lavatories, elevators and other improvements.

Democrats said the project was part of the tax bill and discussed on the Senate floor. Minnesota Administration Department Real Estate and Construction Services Senior Director Wayne Waslaski said the building cost is comparable to similar projects and would eliminate the need for the state to lease more than 600 parking spaces near the Capitol.

“It could be done for half the cost,” said Brown County Commissioner Dick Seeboth.

Sleepy Eye City Manager Mark Kober thanked Torkelson and Dahms for their support of LGA (Local Government Aid).

Torkelson said he’d like to revisit LGA in an effort to help smaller communities with an inadequate property tax basis. “Most bigger cities have a pretty good property tax basis and don’t need a bigger share of LGA, which is what they’re trying to get in the next few years,” Torkelson said.

New Ulm City Manager Brian Gramentz said state-imposed tax levy limits were enacted as controls but didn’t really do so.

“I don’t like levy limits. We have voters and they’ll respond,” Dahms said. “I prefer local control. If taxes go up without improvements, voters can respond.”

Brown County Administrator Chuck Enter asked for more consistent county program aid.

“We need to look more into it. Minnesota’s property tax system is very complicated,” Torkelson said.

Brown County Commissioner Scott Windschitl asked for more funding for drug take-back programs. “New Ulm Police are doing their own fund-raising for it. It would be nice if the state helped.”

Torkelson agreed, saying the program to eliminate old drugs from households was important.

Brown County Commissioner Andrew Lochner said he’s like to see the sales tax exemption extended to joint powers boards. Torkelson said he and Dahms would do their best to address the issue.

Mathiowetz Construction owner Brian Mathiowetz talked about excessive layers of government agencies his business is forced to deal with and the need to remove old, outdated laws from the books.

“We had to get five permits to level some land near a highway,” Mathiowetz said. “It took us four months. One agency didn’t know what the other was doing.”

Brown County Commissioner Jim Berg asked about watershed districts being able to get taxing authority. “I don’t think it’s a good idea. That should be up to elected officials. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Berg said.

Gramentz complained about mandated state building inspection reports for cities after it was learned that the City of Shakopee collected $2 million in fees for a program that cost about $300,000 to operate. “It cost us about 20 hours of work to create the report for a state mandate that jacks up our (administrative) costs. It’s a shining example of excess mandates that add (administrative) costs to cities and the state.”

Fritz Busch can be emailed at

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