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County kept in the dark about state shutdown

By Staff | Jun 26, 2011

John McDonald

Talk of a potential state government shutdown has caused officials from Faribault County to plan ahead.

The only problem with planning ahead is trying to guess the actual length of a potential shutdown.

John McDonald, county engineer of the public works department warned the Faribault County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, an extended state shutdown could be a terrible thing depending on how long it lasts.

McDonald says the county annually receives $1.5 million from the Minnesota Department of Transportation for general road maintenance repairs. This sum comes in two payments, one on July 1 and another in January. With talk of a potential state shutdown, MnDOT’s offices and its 4,878 employees would not be working, translating into a lack of project approvals given to Faribault County.

For now, McDonald says Faribault County can rest easy as MnDOT plans on making their first installment of payments one week earlier in 2011. A payment will arrive in Faribault County during the last week of June, to ensure the necessary funds are delivered before a potential state shutdown takes place Issues with MnDOT shutting down go beyond funding with the department making many oversight decisions on projects.

In particular, McDonald is worried about plans for work done on County State Aid Highway 16, which includes replacing two old bridges east of the junction of Highway 253. The four-mile section of road and two bridges needing to be replaced will cost an estimated $1.27 million with $1 million being paid by federal funds.

Since federal funds are involved in the CSAH 16 project, MnDOT would have to give its official approval of the bid for construction to take place; something that would not be possible if MnDOT employees are not working.

To prepare for a potential shutdown, county officials were able to extend the length a potential bid will be valid once accepted. Typically MnDOT has 30 days to give approval, but with the threat of a shutdown, they will have 90 days.

Commissioners gave permission to open up bidding on the project, but any delay from the state could potentially put a road block in the highway and bridge project until next spring.

Many commissioners voiced their concern that if the project was started in 2011, it be finished by the time snow flies in the fall. The last thing commissioners say they want is another extended delay as what happened with the swimming pool bridge during the fall of 2010.

Nathan Crane of the Faribault County Extension Office also has concerns if the state cannot agree on a budget.

Crane’s organization is a branch of the University of Minnesota, but operates primarily on state funding.

“A short term shutdown of only a few weeks would not have an immediate impact on the extension’s services,” Crane says.

If a shutdown persists, a different story may take place with many of the extension’s programs, workshops and services taking a hit.