Sam Smith of CEDA, Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, and Cathy Enerson, also of CEDA, present information 
regarding the effort to bring a veterans’ home to Fillmore County during the Fillmore County Board of 
Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, April 11.
TCR/GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY Sam Smith of CEDA, Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, and Cathy Enerson, also of CEDA, present information regarding the effort to bring a veterans’ home to Fillmore County during the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, April 11.
Fillmore County commissioners received an update on the progress of efforts to bring a state veterans home to the county during their meeting on Tuesday, April 11.

Sam Smith, of Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA), who functions as the county’s economic development director, fellow CEDA economic development director Cathy Enerson, and Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, brought forward their news and sought direction from the board on how to proceed in regards to garnering support for the project at the state Capitol.

Smith thanked representatives of the cities of Preston and Spring Valley – two towns that have been vying for the opportunity to have the home built on a local site – for their dedication to the project’s potential.

Those representatives included Fillmore County Veterans’ Services Officer Jason Marquardt, City Administrator Deb Zimmer of Spring Valley and City Administrator Joe Hoffman of Preston, along with citizens and members of the Preston Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post, who have given their time toward laying the groundwork for the home’s construction.

Commissioner Duane Bakke inquired about the number of beds that are to be made available in the proposal?

It was noted by Enerson that the bill in the Legislature was written for a 144-bed facility, but that the proposal being considered listed 100 beds. However, she stated, “It would be likely that there would be two homes, one north and one south, split so that there’s 72 beds.”

Davids pointed out, like the state veterans’ cemetery located on the southeast edge of Preston, the work to construct a veterans’ home will take quite some time.

“This is a long-term project…nine years for the veterans’ cemetery. We have moved things much further this year than I expected,” he said.

“Fillmore County has a need, but Montevideo and Bemidji have also (piloted efforts for the construction of a home). The bill is now moved from the state government Finance Committee to bonding, but most likely, it will not be in the 2017 bonding bill. There have been positive reactions up to this point.”

Davids continued, “If everything is done and ready now, I’m guessing it wouldn’t be built until at least 2022. There are 144 beds available in Minnesota, and Minnesota’s not high on the list compared to other states. If we get on the list and higher in the queue, then they’ll look at the numbers, which are good for need.”

Discussion then turned towards how the county’s veteran population is being estimated and submitted on the applications for state Bonding? Other contenders have shown there is potential for the numbers to grow as Baby Boomer veterans begin to require services. Still others have chosen to include only the number of veterans 65 and over who could be in need of services.

The question at hand facing the commissioners, EDA and individuals working toward the construction of a veterans’ home in Fillmore County was whether to estimate the population based on potential or current veteran residents.

Bakke wanted to know if the home is open to veterans from neighboring states, as the state cemetery accepts veterans from Wisconsin and Iowa, or just only for Minnesotans?

Davids replied, “Minnesota residents only.”

Bakke observed that the word “radius” might bring into play important and deciding factors, such as how far from the Iowa border Fillmore County stands if, for example, a 90-mile radius is used as a yardstick for determining the value of locating a veterans’ home here because the county does share a border with Iowa.

Commissioner Mitch Lentz interjected, “If it’s based on needs, there’s no doubt that it’s needed in southeast Minnesota. We’ve got to make sure we look at the same numbers.”

Smith asked, “So what’s next?”

Davids acknowledged, “Right now, it’s kind of in my court, and when the time comes to call on the commissioners, because I need help, I will.”

Bakke expressed his hope that progress is made this year, so the county has some assurance of the concept’s advancement and potential for construction.

Davids informed the commissioners that there have been some delays in the House’s spending bills due to legislative conflicts, but that he would like to see a tax bill in place so spending bills may be approved.

Smith then addressed the matter of the EDA’s recommendation that the county pledge $5 million toward the home’s construction.

Bakke said, “What bothers me is that we’re in a race to provide money for a state-owned, state-operated facility…a lot of the people who have the money (pledged) have said that it’s pretty soft, and that they aren’t planning on it going through. At the state, they’re going to figure that if they can save half the cost, because the local people want to build the home, then they’ll go ahead with it.”

Lentz commented, “It’s a state veterans’ home funded with 50 percent from the state – if the locals have to come up with all this money, then it’s not a state home.”

Davids remarked, “Message received.”

More information will be available regarding the pursuit of a state veterans’ home being built in southeast Minnesota as legislative progress is made, but the commissioners, EDA directors and Davids exchanged expressions of appreciation for the initial investment into the project.