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Paynesville Press - May 12, 2004

Senate aides visit local officials in Lake Henry and Paynesville

By Michael Jacobson

Aides for Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota) visited the Paynesville area last week as part of a statewide effort to tout the Rural Renaissance Act and to foster cooperation between the senator's office and local-level government.

Two aides from Coleman's office visited with city and township officials in Lake Henry and Paynesville last week. (A scheduled meeting in St. Martin was cancelled.)

Coleman, formerly the mayor of St. Paul, considers himself someone who went from local-level government to the federal level, his aides said. He wants to foster connections between local-level governments, like small cities, and the federal government.

This year, Coleman introduced his Rural Renaissance Act in Congress. The bill calls for issuing $65 billion in bonds, of which $50 billion would be available to local-level-government projects in the form of one-time grants for water and waste treatment projects; affordable housing; hospitals, fire and police stations, and nursing homes and assisted living facilities; distance learning and telemedicine; job training; high-speed Internet access; renewable energy projects and initiatives; and conservation assistance.

The bill stalled in its first attempt to pass through Congress, the aides said, which was not surprising. Had it passed in its first year, it would have set a record, they said. Coleman, they added, planned to renew his push for the legislation in January 2005.

In the meantime, his aides - who are visiting all 87 counties in Minnesota - informed local officials that they could use his office as a resource to learn about other federal grant programs.

In Lake Henry, where the aides met with the city council, except for the mayor, city officials told the aides about the cost of developing infrastructure, from a new 21-lot residential development in the town to a plan by the city to develop an industrial park. Federal grant money could help pay for some of the needed infrastructure, which makes developments in small towns more costly than in larger counterparts that already have the infrastructure in place.

In Paynesville, city officials thanked the aides for trying to make a link from the federal government to the local level. Using the senator's office for assistance could be a big help in finding federal grant money, said city administrator Steve Helget. City officials also talked about the city's need to expand the Industrial Park, which is nearly full, for which federal funds would be extremely useful. And they noted a need for more affordable housing in town, one factor in the closing of the local Stearns Manufacturing plant.

Don Pietsch, representing Paynesville Township, told the aides that they were grateful for federal money for the Lake Koronis Recreational Trail and also said that the township might need infrastructure help as density becomes a bigger issue in the growing township.

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