Sen. Nelson hears from local residents at ‘listening session’
State Sen. Carla Nelson was in Kasson last Friday morning to hear the concerns of county residents at a “listening session” hosted by the Kasson Chamber of Commerce at Kasson City Hall. Nelson represents all of Dodge County and portions of Olmsted County, including Byron, in the Minnesota State Senate.
“What I’d really like to do is spend time listening,” she said in opening remarks.
She said the 2024 legislative session will be a session focusing on capital investments and bonding for long term projects and thus starts later than the 2023 session which dealt with the state budget. Nevertheless, she said, this year’s session will also be a fix-it session dealing with the ramifications of some budget decisions made last year.
And it was the consequences of those 2023 budget decisions that drew most comments from those in attendance.
The majority of the discussion during the one-hour session dealt with the upcoming reconstruction of Highway 57 this summer, changes to the charitable gambling laws, funding for EMS and fire services, and the effect of the sick leave legislation on local businesses.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has not wanted to listen to the concerns of Mantorville businesses as they plan for the construction through downtown Mantorville this summer, said Lynette Nash, owner of the Chocolate Shoppe in Mantorville.
Specifically, she said, business owners have been getting push back on requests for signage during the construction. The project, she said, will benefit the city when it is completed in the fall, but it is important that people know that despite the construction “Mantorville is open for business” during the entire process.
Another concern expressed by those in attendance revolved around the speed limits between Kasson and Mantorville, especially with the recent opening of a Kwik Trip across the highway from K-M High School and last year’s installation of the roundabout at the intersection.
Speed limits at the location and the safety of students crossing the highway to go to the Kwik Trip have been raised previously by city and school officials.
Nelson commented on both issues, saying that in past situations dealing with construction people understand issues relating to construction if officials listen to them and they are not surprised. She also said she was aware of the speed limit issue, had driven the route between the two cities, and they “didn’t make sense.” She pointed out that MnDOT cannot just change the limits without going through a lengthy process.
She added she will be meeting with the District 6 MnDOT engineer before the session begins to discuss these issues.
Changes to e-tab gambling rules threaten the ability of non-profit organizations to raise funds through the selling of pull-tabs, commenters said.
Legislators “caved to the Indian Gambling Commission” last year when they made changes to how e-tabs can be sold, said Dean Schuette from Claremont. Everything that made e-tabs fun was taken out, he said. Those changes will go into effect on January 1, 2025.
The changes affect everyone, not just those who buy the e-tabs, he said, because the money raised goes to projects that benefit all. Local volunteer fire departments and ambulance services, which are facing serious financial issues, are among the organizations that benefit from charitable gambling, Schuette and several other speakers pointed out.
The funds raised by the Claremont Chamber, Schuette said, allow the group to give $20,000 each year to the Triton School District for arts and academic programs. Deb Towey of Hayfield said charitable gambling proceeds have been used for projects there, including the Hayfield fire and ambulance.
Concerns were also expressed about the financial situation facing volunteer fire and ambulance services throughout the state and the country.
Part of that problem, Kasson Mayor Chris McKern said, is the amount of the ambulance bill that Medicare will pay and that ambulance services cannot bill Medicare clients for the difference, even if they would be able to pay. Nash also pointed out that the cost of operating these services has increased greatly over the years since those rules were made and Medicare never adjusted to them. Firefighters and EMS personnel need more training than in the past and the cost of their vehicles and equipment has also increased, she said.
Concerns about sick time and family leave expressed at the meeting were basically around the added paperwork that is involved in calculating sick time, in particular for part-time and seasonal employees.