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Letter: Progress made on Legacy funding

This is to recognize the great progress Sen. Rod Skoe and his colleagues on the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee have achieved over the last two years for Park and Trail Legacy funding in Greater Minnesota.

Sen. Skoe and the rural members of the committee worked closely with the Minnesota Rural Counties Caucus, and the Greater Minnesota Regional Park and Trail Coalition, on efforts to bring a measure of equity into how Park and Trail Legacy funding is split between metro parks and trails, the Department of Natural Resources and Greater Minnesota.

When the voters adopted the Legacy Act in 2008, the additional sales tax revenue generated by the amendment went to a new account to benefit statewide Park and Trails, Clean Water, Outdoors, and the Arts. The initial Park and Trail Legacy split in 2009, was not fair to Greater Minnesota - with 43 percent exclusive to DNR, and 43 percent exclusive to metro parks - leaving only 14 percent for the remaining 80 non-metro counties. Additionally, metro parks were allowed to compete for that remaining 14 percent, and were awarded 20 percent.

Last year, Sen. Skoe helped tilt those percentages so Greater Minnesota can begin planning the high quality regional park and trail system the public overwhelmingly said was priority one in hearings across the state. Because of the remarkable efforts of Sen. Skoe and the rural members of the committee, Greater Minnesota will receive in 2012 and 2013 alone, nearly as much as it received in the preceding 20 years of park and trail funding.

This year, Sen. Skoe successfully helped guide legislation eliminating requirements for Greater Minnesota cities and counties to provide a 25 percent local match, and imposing a $500,000 annual funding cap on any project outside the seven county metro area into law. The local match and project cap provisions were a significant and unfair burden to good projects moving forward in revenue-strapped Greater Minnesota cities and counties. Though metro park and trail entities had no corresponding statutory requirement to meet the local match or project cap standards, they strongly opposed our effort to eliminate the burden in Greater Minnesota.

We could not have eliminated this unfair standard without the strong leadership of Sen. Skoe and his colleagues from Greater Minnesota. While we continue to explore new ways to be efficient in light of ever-tighter budgets, we are also taking a close look at formulas where Greater Minnesota is not getting its fair share. With the help of people like Sen. Skoe, we are finding our way to some significant success.

Mike Hanson, Koochiching County commissioner and Marcia Larson, City of Bemidji parks director