Paynesville city officials and area residents were given the opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns to local legislators last week during a question-and-answer session sponsored by the Paynesville City Council.
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Paynesville Press - January 14, 2004

Council hosts public meeting with legislators

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

Paynesville city officials and area residents were given the opportunity to ask questions and voice their concerns to local legislators last week during a question-and-answer session sponsored by the Paynesville City Council.

Senator Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) and Representative Doug Stang (R-Cold Spring) met with ten Paynesville residents - mostly city council members and city officials - during the 90- minute forum arranged to discuss issues that may be addressed during the upcoming legislative session, which begins on Monday, Feb. 2..

The future of administrative fines, which have been challenged by one legislator, was one topic that was discussed at length. Fischbach and Stang both support administrative fine programs, but both believe that there need to be some changes made in the programs..

"Initially, I thought it was a creative way for cities to raise some revenue," said Stang. Now, he would rather address cities' fiscal concerns in other ways. He fears that pressure may be put on officers to issue tickets to generate revenue..

In Paynesville, administrative fines were not intended as a fundraiser, said Mayor Jeff Thompson. It was an additional tool for officers to use when faced with minor offenses. .

The Paynesville Police Department has used administrative fines since September..

Both lawmakers assured the gallery that financial concerns were not the reason the state questioned the legality of the programs. "I don't hear the argument that the state is losing money," said Fischbach..

Doug and Michelle Fischbach agreed that there are some grey areas in the programs. She would support administrative fines if a few areas were addressed, such as how offenses are reported to the state, since otherwise administrative fines are not put on a driver's record, for instance. .

Senator Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) - seated with Rep. Doug Stang (R-Cold Spring) - answered a question during the informational meeting at Paynesville City Hall last week.

Lowering the legal alcohol limit for driving, from 0.10 to 0.08, was the topic on Don Torbenson's mind during the meeting. Torbenson believes that it makes sense for the state to lower the limit in order to receive $20 million in highway dollars. He also said that he believes that lowering the limit would save lives by reducing accidents. .

Both lawmakers oppose lowering the limit. They believe that a lower limit will cost counties more. Enforcement and prosecution could be expensive for local municipalities, and the federal highway dollars would not be earmarked for counties to enforce the lower limit..

Fischbach, however, does support felony DUI legislation..

Stang doesn't like the one-size-fits-all approach to alcohol impairment. He once took part in an experiment where participants drank until their blood alcohol level was 0.08. "Some people were obviously impaired and some were not," said Stang. "It's hard to put everyone in the same category. When I was .08, I didn't feel impaired," he added. .

Council member Dave Peschong, who is also a Stearns County Sheriffs Deputy, responded that the limit should be lowered because many accidents happen at impairment levels lower than the current legal limit. "You're never going to make the hardcore drunk quit driving," said Pecshong, "but by lowering the limit, you're going to make other people think twice about taking that last drink.".

While neither lawmaker supported lowering the limit, both agreed that the limit will likely be lowered during the next session..

The highway funding discussion took a turn when council member Harlan Beek, concerned about the proposed Highway 23 project in the Paynesville area, asked if the state was likely to cut highway funding..

According to Stang, because highway funding is dedicated, lawmakers can't make cuts in this area, but how to use highway dollars could be a hot topic in the legislature this session. According to Stang, some lawmakers support allowing the state to bond for highway project, which would allow more projects to be done now, while bonding rates and costs are low..

Thompson questioned the proposed Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, a constitutional amendment that would allow government spending to grow only at the rate of inflation plus population increases and property value increases. Other increases would have to be voted on by taxpayers..

Fischbach and Stang both support the proposal, but only on the state level, they said. The lawmakers believe that local governments should have more flexibility. .

Currently, city councils can raise property taxes now without referendums. In fact, in 2004 the city of Paynesville raised its levy $6,000, in part to offset losses in aid from the state. The state budget and aid to cities were not discussed at the meeting last week..

Other topics of discussion were: the Paynesville Municipal Airport, with Peschong urging the lawmakers to help ensure grant money is available to small airports; Head Start funding, which was brought up by Paynesville Head Start director Mary Mackedanz, who urged lawmakers to remember the program; and the death penalty, which neither lawmaker said they could support fully..

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