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Budget issues still linger at state level

Legislators, working 11 hours into a special session, arrived at a budget agreement, but Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, anticipates a difficult session ahead next year.

The first year of the biennium, when the budget is determined, will require cuts, she predicts. "There are not enough shifts left" to address the anticipated $6 billion deficit.

"No direct cuts were made to education, but we made shifts," she said of the 70-30 funding delays to school districts. "Nursing homes and K-12 education are the only ones that didn't get direct cuts.

"The problem," Sailer said, "is the recession. It's not state spending."

Sailer sent out a survey to constituents with the majority agreeing to a blend of cuts, an increase in taxes and in fees.

"We're at the point now where we can't do it with just cuts," she cautioned.

The past session's Environment and Natural Resources omnibus bill held components directly affecting this area, she said.

She authored a cross- country ski trail fee increase at the behest of the Nordic Ski Association, with backing from area Itascatur volunteers, to cover the costs of trail maintenance.

The fees for daily, annual and three-year passes for those ages 16 and up were bumped to $6, $20 and $55 respectively. Wording was included to allow supervising adults of youth groups to use the trails at no cost.

"It's another way to get people outdoors," the cross-country ski enthusiast said.

The state is now allowing the DNR to access cross- country ski trail funds for state parks, pending legislative approval, she said. Formerly, the funds had to come just from Department of Natural Resources coffers, she said, which have been depleted due to the economy.

The Legislature has also put a delay on county adoption of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sub-surface sewage treatment rules, she said, specifically rural septic systems.

Counties and septic system installers were told to adopt the MPCA rules by Feb. 1, she explained. "Unfortunately, the ink wasn't dry. The rules weren't in place."

Counties, she said, now have a 10-month time period to adopt the regulations "after MPCA has it finished."

The bill, Sailer said, helps counties and septic installers work with clients. "But there were too many unanswered questions."

Environmental Services administrator Eric Buitenwerf was among those who testified before the lawmakers on the issue.

Hubbard County commissioners had adopted the policy but subsequently rescinded it, reinstating the former policy.

The Legislature also took action to reduce the amount commercial or residential property owners pay to install utility lines across a DNR right-of-way. Rural electric cooperatives, she said, were the motivating faction.

The cost affects those whose property adjoins public land, which is abundant in the northern tier of the county.

Initially, the cost had been $500, but it was costing the DNR more than that to complete the process, Sailer explained. The amount was bumped up to $2,000 to $5,000 for each permit.

But the Legislature determined this to be excessive and reduced the access fee for public land crossings to a set $3,000 and water crossings at $1,750.

The application, she said, will now cover more than one utility for a residence.

Sailer said work continues on installing high-speed broadband lines at minimal cost in rural areas.

A statewide landfill proposal calling for more stringent groundwater criteria was modified at Sailer's recommendation.

"It wouldn't work for rural areas," she said of the metro-based proposal addressing municipal solid waste.

Any landfill permitted before 2011 will be exempted from the more stringent rules, she explained.

"There should be rules, but counties need to know up front. Changing rules midstream has expensive ramifications," she said.