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Wadena gets $750,000, not $20 million, for community center

Legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty today agreed to spend $70 million on disaster relief, mostly for southern Minnesota communities hit by extensive flooding last month.

Wadena's efforts to recover from a June 17 tornado also could get a piece of the appropriations, $750,000 to plan a new community center. Funds for the Wadena school district also are in the bill, agreed to in an afternoon meeting.

Negotiators tentatively approved the bill, but must wait for an Obama administration decision whether to declare most of southern Minnesota a flood disaster area. That decision could come at any time.

Once the federal government decides on the disaster declaration, Pawlenty will call a special legislative session that he says will last no longer than a day. That is when lawmakers would appropriate the money.

Legislative leaders did not immediately release a complete breakdown of the funds. But a House spokesman said $31 million would come from the state general fund and about that much would be borrowed. Other funds would come from a separate highway fund.

The bill crafted over the past several days mostly is designed to pay the state portion of repairs to public facilities ranging from buildings to roads, as well as providing loans to individuals and grants to businesses. An initial estimate of public facility flood damage was set at $64 million.

Federal funds usually pay 75 percent of public facility repair costs.

One hold-up in negotiations has been whether to include any funds for Wadena, but in the end the community will receive $750,000 of the bill passes.

The Wadena facility would be near or connected to a new high school, replacing one that was destroyed.

"It was important to include this funding now because the city of Wadena is breaking ground in the spring on a new school," said Rep. Kory Kath, DFL-Owatonna. "This planning money will help them identify priorities and determine where they can share space with the community center."

The tornado destroyed a community center that includes an ice rink, an outdoor pool and parts of the fairgrounds. Those facilities would be combined into a new center.

Kath, DFL spokesman for the flood-relief effort, said the package includes help to recover from September floods as well as to prevent future floods.

The measure also contains safeguards to prevent misuse of flood-relief money such as is alleged after 2007 southeast Minnesota flooding.