By Dan Linehan
The Free Press
MANKATO — A new transportation planning body — and its accompanying $300,000 per year in federal money — took one of its final steps toward life Tuesday, as the Mankato City Council approved a joint-powers agreement.
The Mankato-area Metropolitan Planning Organization, a requirement after the area hit the 50,000-population threshold in March, still requires the approval of the governor’s office.
But Mankato’s approval marks the last major governing body to sign on to the plan. The townships of Belgrade and South Bend haven’t yet signed, though the joint-powers agreement can take effect without them.
Mankato will host the planning body, and its executive director will be an existing employee, perhaps City Manager Pat Hentges or Community Development Director Paul Vogel.
It is likely to hire a transportation planner and maybe another position, Hentges told the council.
Though the planning body will have a budget of about $375,000, including the local share, Hentges said most of the money will likely be spent on consultants. Limiting the number of permanent staff limits the city’s liability if the federal government reduces its contribution.
The body will be organized around two committees — a six- or seven-member policy board comprised of elected officials and a larger board comprised of staff. The leadership on the policy board will come from Mankato, North Mankato, Eagle Lake, Blue Earth County, Nicollet County and a rotating chair for townships. A seventh member from a transit agency could come on board if such an entity is ever formed.
As with most local governments, the staff will do most of the work and the elected officials will review and approve it.
The planning body’s biggest task is the creation of a 20-year plan; it will also make a four-year list of regional projects.
Importantly, a Metropolitan Planning Organization cannot spend money on construction projects. It can only plan, though many of those plans are expected to replace, not add onto, onto current efforts.
The Mankato and North Mankato planning organization will be the first such body created in the state in 25 years, Hentges said.
The first federal money is expected to arrive in early 2013, perhaps in March.
Incidentally, Tuesday’s City Council meeting will likely be the last to occur in the current council chambers. Upcoming renovations will move the council meeting room into what is now the atrium of the Mankato Place Mall. The council will meet in the Verizon Wireless Center in the interim.