The RAMS Board will not be meeting in June, July or August. The next RAMS Board Meeting will be held at 6:00 P.M. on Thursday, September 26, 2019, in the City of Hibbing. (Location of the meeting to be determined.)
The RAMS Finance Committee will meet at 12:00 Noon on Wednesday, June 26, 2019, at the NESC office in Mt. Iron.
Far too often, Rangers are faced with a struggling economy, depressed populations and little to no good news. Well for a change the Range is bubbling with positives, exciting developments, jobs and even nice summer weather. Starting with some great accomplishments in a somewhat dull legislative session, the Range, thanks to our great bi-partisan delegation, brought home some very impactful legislative gains for our Region.
MUNICIPAL TACONITE TAX CHANGE:
This change that RAMS has made a priority for the past three sessions, was passed and will result in the elimination of the deduction in the formula, provide for an increase of over $450,000.00 next year for our communities and will see increases in the formula via a portion of the escalator clause being applied for years to come. While the net gain for some communities will be minimal, it is a much better formula than previously and gains are always better than reductions in the annual payment.
LGA – Local Government Aid Increase:
Governor Walz made this a priority of his campaign and thanks to the hard work of our DFL led House majority and bi-partisan support in the Senate, LGA payments will trend back to the level cities were accustomed to prior to the massive cuts by former Governor Pawlenty. LGA is critical to our rural communities that do not have a large industrial or business tax base. Included in the LGA legislation was a bonus for the city of Virginia thanks to Rep. Dave Lislegard and Senator Tomassoni, the city will receive a one-time payment of $5.4 million in 2021. This payment will reimburse the city for the expense of moving their utilities across the new “Tom Rukavina” bridge on highway 53.
While legislative gains also included funding for multiple trails systems across the region, it also included a million dollars for the new mine exhibit in Chisholm, $40 million for Border to Border broadband grant program, funding for the city of Floodwood’s pond system rebuild, money for the Silver Bay recreation camp site and numerous other beneficial allotments.
EDUCATION ON THE MOVE ACROSS THE RANGE:
The Iron Range is starting to see things never before imagined with our local school districts. Thanks to the courageous and bold leadership exhibited by Dr. Noel Schmidt (Virginia ISD 706) and Jeff Carey (Eveleth-Gilbert Schools) three communities came together, worked through the myriad of issues and passed a referendum for $181 million dollars that will result in the construction of a brand new high school campus in the Midway area as well as two new elementary buildings– one in Virginia and one in Eveleth. The boards are currently in discussions about consolidating the two districts and working with consultants, architects, community groups and staff to finalize a design, secure the land for the campus and develop the learning academy curriculum for the new school. RAMS is excited for the communities and the endless possibilities for the students who will be introduced to an entirely new way of learning and preparing for life after school.
Grand Rapids ISD 318:
More new schools will be going up on the west end of the Range with two new elementary buildings being constructed for the Grand Rapids school district. This $72 million dollar project will again provide a modern more student friendly learning campus for years to come on the west Range. The district and the city are also working to secure funding to enhance their community ice arena to include a new child care facility, learning spaces and other recreational activities. Grand Rapids is also in need of a new superintendent after being notified this summer that Joni Olson was retiring.
Iron Range School Collaboration:
A number of school leaders and districts have pooled their collective talents and are offering a variety of summer camps for students in grades 5 – 8. Outdoor activities, artistic learning, STEM or STEAM offerings and other unique classes are being made available at multiple sites and transportation of being offered to assure students are able to attend. Grant funding from the Department of IRRR helped make the program possible and our Range delegation will continue to work to secure funding from the State in the next legislative session.
Hibbing School District:
The Hibbing school district made a decision this spring to offer a Learning academy curriculum starting this Fall. They expect up to 150 high school students to participate in this new learning opportunity where they will be exposed to working with local businesses, internships, hands on learning experiences and other new opportunities. Hibbing is also looking to replace Superintendent Brad Johnson who announced his retirement from the District in May.
The Legislature agreed upon $40 million in funding for the State Border to Border Grant Program for the next two years. This will once again open up opportunities for rural communities to take advantage of the 50/50 grant funding program and expand high speed broadband in unserved or underserved areas of the state, many that are found in the TAA. Cherry Township working with CTC and the Northeast Service Cooperative has submitted an application for a Federal grant that would provide fiber to the home for over 400 sites in the Cherry Township area. Meanwhile the city of Ely also working with CTC is preparing to connect fiber to the downtown business corridor this summer and will consider expanding to homeowners in the near future. The SideLake area northwest of Hibbing is bringing in fiber thanks to a project with Paul Bunyan. Thanks to the Dept. of IRRR and the Range Delegation acting as the board of directors for including broadband funding in their infrastructure grant budget for 2020. This will not enable progressive communities from applying for funding for broadband projects just as they would for a sewer line repair.
Yes, there are still many challenges facing our community leaders on the Iron Range, but because of our “never say die” attitudes and willingness to work hard for what we need most, positive changes are happening all across the region. As we say at RAMS, “ONE RANGE – ONE VOICE” equals more strength, I hope the growth of RAMS has shown the power we have when we all pull together.