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Montevideo bringing $5 million strong case for veterans home to the state Legislature

MONTEVIDEO, Minnesota — Montevideo will be bringing a proposal that is $5 million strong to the state Legislature to host the next veterans nursing home.

The Chippewa County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday to commit $3 million on the county’s part to the proposal to construct a veterans nursing home in Montevideo. The $3 million would be in addition to about $2 million already pledged by other entities, including the city of Montevideo, veterans groups and private individuals.

“It will make a difference,” said State Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, in response to questions by the board of commissioners on whether the local funding will help persuade legislators to select the Montevideo proposal.

The Montevideo proposal is among a number that are expected to be brought to the Legislature this session. Willmar and Bemidji are also among those expected to offer proposals.

Whether the Legislature will approve a project this year is not known. Koenen told the more than 80 supporters who packed the Chippewa County Commissioners’ meeting room that he believes the state is getting closer to making that decision, and the advantage will belong to the communities ready to act fast. “At some point in the future, all of a sudden it is going to be time to make that decision,” he said.

Montevideo will be offering $5 million toward the state’s estimated $8.9 million cost to construct a proposed 90-bed facility. If the state approves it, the project must also obtain federal approval and funding. The federal funding would be an estimated $22 million. The cost for the overall project is estimated at $33 million, according to Marv Garbe, who is leading the committee working on the Montevideo proposal.

Garbe said that if the Legislature approves the project, it would likely be four years before a home welcomes its first residents.

Garbe said a veterans nursing home is needed to serve an aging veteran population in the region. He noted that statewide, there are currently 1,000 veterans on a waiting list for beds in the state’s existing facilities.

While he emphasized that serving veterans is the primary need, he said the county would realize economic benefits in hosting a home to justify its $3 million investment. The home would create an estimated 210 jobs, and would be a major buyer of goods and services.

While the commissioners committed the county to providing $3 million, they did not decide how to do so. They will be discussing whether to tap reserve funds for a portion of the amount, but are likely to bond for the larger share. Bonding would require a county-wide referendum unless the county obtains special approval from the Legislature, according to information presented at the meeting Tuesday.

Montevideo is currently the only community offering to contribute funds toward the cost of a veterans nursing home, according to Koenen.

The community is already home to a Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic.

Montevideo believes it has other advantages to convince state legislators that it is the right site for a new veterans home. It already has the initial architectural plans for a nursing home, and the city has committed land for it. The community is also centrally located to serve a large veteran population. Veterans service officers from Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties were among those who attended the meeting Tuesday to speak on the need for a veterans nursing home in this area.

Supporters told the commissioners that they also can make a case for strong and ongoing community support for veterans once a home would be built. “We can never do too much for our veterans,” said Dave Swenson of rural Montevideo. He told the commissioners that he and his wife have been putting money aside to contribute toward the proposal.

Commissioners said they had heard only support from constituents, and no opposition to the $3 million proposal leading up the vote. Commissioners Jim Dahlvang and Jeffrey Lopez offered the motion to commit $3 million, and Commissioners Matt Gilbertson, David Nordaune and Commission Chairman Dave Lieser joined in supporting it, as those attending applauded.

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