State funding to upgrade aging wastewater and drinking water systems, improving access to child care and passage of a large bonding bill are the top priorities for Greater Minnesota cities.

“Our legislators will not be judged on what they talk about but what they actually pass and fund,” said Bradley Peterson, executive director of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. He and others held a conference call Thursday about their hopes for the legislative session that begins Tuesday.

He said the state will need $11 billion to $12 billion in projects during the next two decades to upgrade wastewater and drinking water systems. Peterson said with the state’s sizable budget surplus and strong bond rating, the Legislature should begin chipping away at that need through programs that provide grants and low-interest loans to communities.

Sarah Brunn, mayor of Foley, northeast of St. Cloud, said her city has a moratorium on any new connections to the sewer plant.

“Our city is currently out of capacity on our sewer treatment system. It will cripple our residential and business growth.”

The city says its best option is to connect to St. Cloud’s system, a project what will cost $22 million. “That’s massive for our small city of 2,700.”

Foley is seeking $10 million in bonding from the state. Without it, Brunn said, residents will face a 300% increase in sewer fees.

Greg Zylka, mayor of Little Falls and coalition vice president, said the group is seeking a state bonding bill of at least $1.5 billion, including at least $200 million for sewer and water project grants and loans.

“Passing a bonding bill will require bipartisan cooperation,” Zylka said.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz has proposed a $2 billion borrowing package, known as a bonding bill, while the GOP-controlled Senate says it favors one that is less than $1 billion.

Peterson said the lack of child care in rural Minnesota is also a major threat to growth. City leaders around the state cite a lack of child care as perhaps the biggest threat to their communities’ growth.

The six Initiative Foundations that serve Minnesota have been focused on using state funding to target child care needs.

Don Hickman, vice president for community and workforce development at the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls, said at least 40,000 children are on waiting lists or seeking child care in Greater Minnesota.

“This shortage has economic impacts for families and for communities.”

He said that without child care, one parent isn’t able to work, increasing the problem of the shortage of workers across the state.

“Child care is a deciding factor on whether a family decides to stay or relocate and one of the keys for businesses to decide if they’re going to move to a community.”

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