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IRRRB approves $41 million budget
The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board approved its fiscal year 2015 budget Monday.
The nearly $41 million budget is about on par with last year’s total planned expenditures, Commissioner Tony Sertich told board members.
One significant difference between them is a reduction in anticipated carry-over funds. Sertich told the board that the reduced carry-over was the result of a $5.7 million spend down – an allocation to Delta Airlines for its call center expansion in Chisholm.
The budget allocates 48 percent of total projected expenditures for development projects and programs; 19 percent for Giants Ridge; 15 percent for operations and 18 percent for education.
The agency budgeted approximately $14.6 million for development projects and infrastructure and another $4.6 million for program grants. It also provides $7.8 million for Giants Ridge, $6.1 million in agency operational expenses and $7.2 million for Iron Range school collaboration – a new line item created by action during the last legislative session that will fund E-12 multi-district endeavors.
“A highlight of this year’s budget is that a significant amount of funding is allocated for our regional education systems,” Sertich said in a news release. “This gives us the opportunity to invest in innovative projects that will help us grow the next generation of residents and our workforce.”
At Monday’s meeting, Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam, called the level of investment in E-12 education “unprecedented.”
“I just want to publicly mention Sen. (Tom) Bakk and Rep. (Jason) Metsa as the two who did the heavy lifting on this,” Anzelc said.
The IRRRB approved two infrastructure grants, one to Virginia and the other to Cook, which will support two economic development projects on the East Range.
The $130,000 grant to Cook will provide utility, infrastructure and site work needed to rebuild the Vermilion Motel, which was destroyed by fire in 2013. Developers have planned a new two-story structure located at the same site as the old hotel. The project carries an estimated $1.5 million price tag and is expected to create six permanent jobs.
A $350,000 infrastructure grant to the city of Virginia will aid an $8.9 million planned expansion of Ulland Brothers, which currently has facilities in Hibbing, Cloquet and Albert Lea.
Ulland Brothers, which moved its operations to the Iron Range during World War II and provides services to the construction industry, plans a new heavy equipment maintenance garage, warehouse and administrative office building at the Virginia site.
In a telephone interview, Ulland Brothers President Mike Welch said company growth was fueling expansion plans. The new facility will result in a 79 percent increase in the company’s square footage.
Site work for the project will begin in July, said Welch, and then the project will be handed over to a general contractor, which had not been selected as of press time. The expansion is projected to create seven permanent jobs and 58 construction jobs, according to IRRRB estimates.
In one final item of business, the board also approved $1.9 million in funding for a number of higher education programs, as recommended by the Higher Education Committee.
The allocation includes $1 million for Iron Range Engineering, $615,340 for the Healthcare Simulation Center of Excellence at Hibbing Community College and $220,000 for the Biochemical Systems Engineering Program at Itasca Community College. The action taken by the board also allocates $40,000 in flexible funding at the commissioner’s discretion to address shortfalls in existing programming.
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