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County increases funding request for Graham Park

January 10, 2019

Olmsted County is increasing its request for state funds to support renovations at Graham Park.

The request has increased from $10 million to $12.5 million.

“I think it’s reasonable; we can point out what has changed since we did our first estimate,” Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden said, noting the park’s master plan has been completed and the county has started some work.

The county adopted the master plan in June. The plan calls for the creation of a 60,000-square-foot multi-use arena and expo center in the park, which hosts the Olmsted County Fair. Other plans include the potential for a permanent farmers’ market, a play area and festival grounds with the goal of providing year-round use.

Commissioner Matt Flynn said he worries the county could face a backlash by increasing the request after previously telling lawmakers $10 million in state funds is needed to start the project, with plans that the county would add another $10 million.

He said the county’s credibility could take a hit if the target continues to change.

“We keep flip-flopping around, and nobody knows where we are coming from,” he said.

Kiscaden said the new request is based on improved cost estimates, as well as a plan that goes beyond the proposed expo center, which was the primary target of the county’s failed state funding request last year.

Additionally, she said St. Cloud is asking for more than $16 million to renovate its Municipal Athletic Complex.

A former state senator, Kiscaden said lawmakers typically keep unofficial balance sheets aimed at ensuring state dollars are spread throughout the state. With that in mind, she said she doesn’t believe the $12.5 million request is out of line.

Newly appointed County Board Chairman Jim Bier said he understands Flynn’s concerns, but also noted such requests can be adjusted by lawmakers.

“They know it’s a game, too,” he said. “They give you less because they know we’re asking for more.”

He said it will be important that all county commissioners send the same message when talking to state lawmakers, who began the legislative session Tuesday.

Deputy County Administrator Pete Giesen said staff will work on a message that outlines the funding needs and what the county will do with the money, if approved.

Commissioners have a Jan. 25 meeting scheduled with local lawmakers to discuss the county’s legislative priorities.

While state borrowing related to capital investment bills, also known as bonding bills, is traditionally approved every other year, recent years have seen some level of borrowing considered on an annual basis.

Debra Ehret Miller, the county’s director of policy, analysis and communications, said that county staff is prepared for any bonding opportunities, even though it is not a bonding year.

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