The breakup of a regional transit board means more revenue for Dakota County projects
Transportation is often cited as the most important concern of Dakota County residents as past surveys have shown that the majority of working adults travel north and cross the Minnesota River each day to go to work.
County government leaders think that 2017 will be looked back upon as a year in which there was a seismic change in addressing the county’s transportation needs.
In March 2017, the Counties Transit Improvement Board dissolved after Dakota County protested that it was not getting its fair share of return on investment in projects to serve its residents.
The result is that the county will no longer be funnelling millions into CTIB and instead the county has implemented the Dakota County Transit Sales Tax, which will generate an expected $16.6 million in 2018 for local transportation projects.
On Oct. 1, the county started diverting a current quarter-percent sales tax and $20 excise tax on new vehicle sales from CTIB to the county’s revenue stream.
County Administrator Matt Smith said the county got beat up pretty good over its insistence that CTIB dissolve and pay out what each entity had already invested into the transit pot.
Dakota County received $21.3 million when the group broke up — $5.3 million more than it was originally offered.
Commissioner Mary Liz Holberg, who represents the Lakeville area, said an important aspect of the deal is that the Metropolitan Council will pay for the $1 million in annual operating costs for the bus rapid transit Red Line from Apple Valley to the Mall of America.
Smith says the dissolution of CTIB does not mean the end of transit projects that serve suburban residents, including those potential customers of the bus rapid transit Orange Line that would connect Burnsville to Minneapolis.
He said transit projects and their funding formula based such criteria and mileage and ridership will be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Smith said even though there were strong feelings after the breakup of CTIB, Hennepin County is working with Dakota County leaders on the Orange Line.
Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan said he would like to continue working with regional partners to extend the Red and Orange BRT lines to Lakeville.
“In spite of much acrimony and consternation, Dakota County has proven the prudence in its decision to withdraw from CTIB,” he said. “All former CTIB counties have found the benefits of forming more strategically aligned partnerships with other counties while operating independently when appropriate.”
Holberg said the MVTA’s express bus Kenrick Avenue Park and Ride is at capacity and additional investments are going to have to be made along the I-35 corridor.
She said discussions are also happening regarding transit routes from Hastings to Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Holberg said talks are happening with regard to a shuttle service from Airlake Industrial Park to the Cedar Avenue Red Line stop, and working with Minnesota Valley Transit Authority to connect the Red Line to Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount.
Smith said there is pent up demand for Dakota County transportation projects.
Egan said during an interview about the CTIB breakup in March that Dakota County has $500 million in unmet transportation needs.
Among the larger projects that are slated to be completed in 2018 are improvements to the intersection of County Road 26 (Lone Oak Road) and County Road 43 (Lexington Avenue) in Eagan, reconstruction of a stretch of Highway 55 at County Road 42 near the Rosemount-Hastings border and County Road 32 (McAndrews Road) from Highway 3 in Rosemount to Pilot Knob Road in Apple Valley.
There is a long list of other projects in the works for the coming years, and Holberg said some of these are going to be accelerated because of the Dakota County Transit Sales Tax.
“But the reality is some of this is going to take time to ramp up,” she said.
Two of the County Board’s goals for 2018 are to begin the Eastern Dakota County Transit Study and complete the Principal Arterial Study.
Among the new hires expected in 2018 are those to help the County Transportation Department design, plan, manage and aquire right of way for future projects.
Holberg said the new hires are a result of the county’s CTIB exit along with the infusion of additional funding approved by the Legislature.
Smith said another issue that may be addressed in the coming year is a review of changes to the city-county cost share for road projects. The current county-city cost share is 55-45 percent, though the county’s share increases on some projects based on a variety of factors.
Many other Minnesota counties have a cost share that has the counties consistently paying more for projects.
With the infusion of more money for transportation and the dissolution of CTIB and the county’s current debt-free status, it could mean that Dakota County will take on more of the costs for county road projects.
Next year, Dakota County residents will see the effect of CTIB’s dissolution in their property tax bills.
For the past 10 years, Dakota County had paid about $12.2 million annually into CTIB, and the county said less than half of that money went toward Dakota County projects.
As a result of the new quarter-percent sales tax and $20 excise tax on new vehicle sales, the county was able to drop the Regional Rail Authority levy by $1.3 million this year, which dropped the county’s overall levy increase to 1.9 percent.
The levy is the amount that has a direct impact on residents’ property taxes.
Assuming a 6.9 percent market value increase for a median residential home of $243,900, the county portion of taxes is projected to increase by $15.97 from 2017 to 2018.
The county portion of taxes for a commercial or industrial property valued at $1 million is projected to decrease by 2.82 percent, assuming an increase in value from 2017 to 2018 of 2.2 percent.
The operating and Capital Improvement Plan portion of the levy is slated to increase 2.9 percent to $136.65 million in 2018, while the Regional Rail Authority is proposed to decrease 79.5 percent to $330,000.
Total spending by the county is projected to increase by 3.9 percent in 2017 to $379.19 million in 2018.
That increase is largely due to budget needs for transportation projects; long-term investments in parks, natural resources, libraries and maintenance facilities; information technology security; increased caseloads; and emergency housing.
The county expects to add 28.6 full-time equivalent positions in 2018.
The 2018 budget invests $1.2 million into housing stability efforts, according to Smith.
During the past year, the county has contracted with Matrix to manage emergency shelters at various churches, and Holberg said she has served on a task force to develop ways to provide transitional housing for the homeless.
Smith said the county is working with local governments in an effort to increase the stock of affordable units.
Holberg said a new initiative of the Dakota County Community Development Agency is using one unit in each of its 11 county workforce housing developments for those “who are hard to house.”
Those clients could be those who suffered a recent job loss and were unable to pay their rent, or seniors whose retirement savings ran out.
The effort to provide more transitional and affordable housing will take a great amount of communication with local residents in advance of the creation of more units.
She said if people better understood the kinds of people who are becoming homeless, they would have a greater acceptance of such housing coming to their cities and neighborhoods.
Smith said one of the biggest changes in county government in 2017 was a broader communications effort.
While the sheriff’s office has been on social media for a number of years, the county launched Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages in the past year. The effort, which has gained 2,000-plus followers combined, aims to reach Dakota County residents where they are already engaging with friends and neighbors.
“It is a way to directly connect and engage with the community,” Smith said. “When something happens it’s really important to let people know what’s going on even if we are not the first to jump into it.”
Mary Beth Schubert, county communications coordinator, said social media provides a different way for people to provide feedback.
She said the greater the opportunity for communication, the better it allows the community to be as transparent as possible.
Smith said the effort aims to create “deeper public engagement” as people understand what county government does so they know where they have the opportunity to make it better.
He said the county is working to improve its website to make it more user friendly and better for people to conduct transactions.
In the last quarter of 2017, the county’s “Dakota” magazine offered a guide into the ways in which residents can provide their voice with regard to services, in addition to volunteering with the county or serving on a county advisory board.
Egan said in 2017, Dakota County held a record number of open houses and public meetings during improved and more convenient hours on more subjects than ever before.
During the 2017 legislative session Dakota County earned a $6 million state allocation to install new turbines at the Lake Byllesby Dam. The new turbines will generate 40 percent more electricity, which will reduce power costs.
The turbines inside the dam are about 107 years old. They have had several major overhauls and need to be replaced, according to the county.
Preliminary designs and determined the process moving forward to replace the turbines and upgrade the powerhouse.
A general contractor will be selected this spring, and construction is slated to start on the four-year project in the fall.
Dakota County contracts with a vendor to operate the county-owned turbines that produce electricity. The operator then sells the energy produced by the dam, which is about 12,000 megawatts or enough to power 2,400 homes annually, to Xcel Energy.
The $8 million wind turbine at the University of Minnesota’s UMORE Park in Rosemount is listed as a 2.5 megawatt producer.