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County rejects CTIB dissolution plan

The Counties Transit Improvement Board, a five-county transit partnership that includes Dakota County, is planning to dissolve. But Dakota County is holding up the vote with concerns that it hasn't gotten enough out of the nine-year project.

CTIB includes Hennepin, Anoka, Ramsey, Washington and Dakota counties, and has been working toward developing and improving light rail, commuter rail and bus-rapid transitway lines in the metro area. Projects currently operating include the Blue and Green lines (light rail), Red Line (bus-rapid transit) and the Northstar Commuter Rail. According to the CTIB website, expansion of the Red, Blue and Green lines are planned, as are two new bus-rapid transit lines, the Orange Line from Minneapolis to Burnsville and the Gateway Corridor, connecting St. Paul and Woodbury.

On March 8, the CTIB board voted to dissolve itself. According to the resolution, "the CTIB counties wish to implement the voluntary dissolution of CTIB and the termination of the Joint Powers Agreement establishing CTIB so that each county may impose a sales and excise tax pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Section 297A.993, allowing for increased revenue and greater flexibility to meet the counties' needs."

But Dakota County isn't thrilled with its final cut. CTIB has proposed "wind-down" payments for the counties involved. Dakota County was slated to receive $14.8 million, but the Dakota County Board of Commissioners is hoping to see more funds out of the deal.

Commissioner Mike Slavik wrote a letter March 17 to Dakota County stakeholders regarding the issue. Within it, he explained why $14.8 million isn't enough.

"Over the life of CTIB (2008-17, if dissolution happens), Dakota County taxpayers will have contributed $122.4 million in regional transit sales taxes," he wrote. "To date, Dakota County transitways have received capital and operating grants totaling $52.9 million — a 43 percent overall return on investment. This pales in comparison to the overall average return on investment across CTIB as a whole of 91 percent. ... Projected ending ROI's at CTIB's close (before recent changes in the dissolution resolution) are 95 percent in Hennepin County and 139 percent in Ramsey. To date, Dakota County taxpayers will have contributed more — in both total dollars and per capita — to transitway costs outside their county than anywhere else — to the tune of $167 per person. That level of cumulative subsidy to the rest of the region is not supportable."

The Dakota County Board is hoping for a 67 percent return, Slavik explained, which would require a wind-down payment of $29.1 million to Dakota County. The request was delivered to the CTIB board, but it did not comment on it.

Even if Dakota County is successful in getting more money, its overall burden in CTIB is still relatively high.

"At this level of ending net contributions (when we reach 67 percent ROI)," Slavik wrote, "Dakota County will still end up having contributed the equivalent of approximately two-and-a-half years of monthly sales receipts to the regional effort; Hennepin's net contribution would be about 12 months' worth of local taxes."

Slavik said he's hopeful that CTIB will be receptive to Dakota County's requests. In order to successfully end CTIB, all five member county boards must approve the dissolution by the end of this month (Friday). Without Dakota County's approval, CTIB will have to wait another three months to terminate the joint powers agreement.

Impact on Hastings

Although Hastings doesn't have any direct involvement in CTIB or the dissolution, the issue is one city officials are watching closely, said City Administrator Melanie Mesko Lee.

"We think it's important because we view the county as a good partner," she said.

Plus, whenever transit and transportation issues are being discussed, there are impacts to all communities in the county, she said.

If CTIB does go away, it's not likely that it will change anything in Hastings. The Red Rock Corridor Commission is still exploring bus-rapid transit options between Hastings and St. Paul, and CTIB's presence or disappearance won't change that.

The Hastings City Council hasn't taken any official position on CTIB's dissolution. But the council continues to be interested in pursuing regional transit options.