The Public Works Nerds

The City Engineers Association of Minnesota and how it helps distribute MN's gas tax with Deb Heiser

September 05, 2023 Marc Culver, PE Season 1 Episode 16
The Public Works Nerds
The City Engineers Association of Minnesota and how it helps distribute MN's gas tax with Deb Heiser
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode Deb Heiser and I nerd out about the City Engineers Association of Minnesota, a unique organization of municipal engineers. We talk about CEAM's mission, committees and purpose. We also dive into what role CEAM plays in the distribution of Minnesota's gas tax. 

We would love to hear from others about how your state's gas tax is distributed to various agencies within the state. And if there are other unique organization's in your state, let us know! Comment on our website, on YouTube, LinkedIn or social media. Let's get a good discussion going!

Show Notes: 

CEAM Website
www.ceam.org

Minnesota Highway User Tax Distribution Fund (HUTDF) Summary
https://cms4files.revize.com/dodgecountymn/Highway/stateAidBrochure_2023.pdf

Marc Culver:

Welcome to the Public Works Nerds podcast. Welcome to the Public Works Nerds podcast. I'm your host, mark Culver, and I'm here again today welcoming back Deb Heiser, who's been a guest and a co-host already in this short podcast journey we've had to date. But Deb is going to join me once again and we're kind of just put together this quick episode. We decided we were going to talk about a really cool organization called the City Engineers Association, minnesota, but before we get there, this is a reminder Deb's the engineering director for the City of St Louis Park in Minnesota, and if you haven't already listened to this or watched it on our YouTube channel, go back. Listen to our sixth episode from July 4th, independence Day, where we talked with Deb about experiments in neighborhood traffic control and using big data. Good episode, some good laughs in there. And then, deb, of course, you were my co-host for the episode we dropped last week with Paul Pascoe, so welcome back.

Deb Heiser:

You're joining me, yeah, well, thank you, mark, for that introduction, and I'm excited to be here today. You're excited to be here every day, every time, well, and it's a great conversation to be had about the City Engineers Association of Minnesota. It's a wonderful organization, and I think we've both been members for what A while A couple years.

Marc Culver:

yeah, I think I'm technically in my 21st year, because I'm pretty sure I became a member as soon as I joined City of Maple Grove. So probably in my 21st year and you probably.

Deb Heiser:

I joined in 1998. I've been a member now for 25 years. This November, there you go.

Marc Culver:

Yep, there you go and you're finally on the board.

Deb Heiser:

Yes, very exciting. Again. The wonderful thing about the City Engineers is that we have a leadership, the executive committee that is elected from among the membership. And one of the challenges, one of the fun parts about all of this is that we get to work together and we get to provide guidance for a lot of different things and we're going to kind of get on that a little bit and we've got the screening board and the gas tax and there's legislative and lobbying and professional ethics and standards. There's all sorts of things that City Engineers is involved with.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, so just kind of taking a review. So City Engineer Association, if you're really interested. Ceamorg I think it's ceam-mnorg, is that right, or is?

Deb Heiser:

it just Ceamorg. They kept it simple.

Marc Culver:

They didn't want to get that dash in there and see them. And before I did this I wanted to kind of read just from the history of that webpage, from that webpage, the history of City Engineer Association, our history. So what does it say? It says it was first established on September 10, 1954, which actually surprised me a little bit. So it's a couple of years before the whole screening board and gas tax thing kicked in. And we'll get a little bit more of that in a few minutes here. But in Breezy Point, minnesota, way up north there, the City and Village Engineers Association of Minnesota, as I apparently City Engineers was first called, had two main goals and in establishing the City Engineer Association, one to find out the ways and means whereby we can render the maximum service to our respective cities and villages where a civil engineer is one of the regularly appointed city officials, and to extend said service to other cities and villages where the need is evident for a civil engineer on a full-time basis. Yeah, that's really exciting. You could tell this is written in the.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, that very hip at all. I'll read the mission now, as you're reading the 1954.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yeah, and then the second thing was to better the position of a city or a village engineer from the standpoint of economic, civic tenure and social standing. So I think going way back then, there was really an intentional effort to provide opportunities for appointed city engineers and to provide an opportunity for those engineers to learn from each other and get together and talk about things and shared issues and such. So why don't you go ahead and read the current yeah, and Namita's kind of just plug a little bit.

Deb Heiser:

City engineers seem, we're going to call it. Seem right, oh yeah, we're going to call it. Make it easier A lot of us words. Seem is unique. We are not affiliated with a large national group. So you look at the National Association of County Engineers. We are unique in that way. The membership continues to stay strong and we've got very limited resources. The boards volunteer and when you look at that, it's a really well-run organization, not just because we've both been on the executive committee, but there's been leadership all 25 years I've been a member. So let's just talk about the mission to further the education and the welfare of each other.

Marc Culver:

I love the way that's said of each other.

Deb Heiser:

To promote the interchange of helpful ideas and information, to work constructively towards the advancement and improvement of the engineering profession, to seek ways and means by which we may be more useful and efficient to those to whom we serve. That's great. A little more hip, a little more action words in there than the legislation.

Marc Culver:

And that's it, that's it, that's it. Oh, come on, that's not. But that's very good. I didn't even need to apply. There should be more. I just wanted to make sure you were done, and I think you made a really good point that the City Engineer Association of Minnesota is not affiliated with the national organization, and I did a little bit of a Google search on municipal engineers associations or city engineers associations and there are a few other ones out there in the US they're. Interestingly enough, there's a New Jersey Society of Municipal Engineers and there's also an Ohio or a municipal engineers association of Ohio which is affiliated with the Young resolutions Ohio League. I believe, and I think that's even us at the city engine at SIEM, we have a I wouldn't say it's a formal affiliation or association with the League of Minnesota Cities, but we use resources from the League of Minnesota Cities. We work together on advocating for funding or policy changes. The League actually is very good on helping us become aware of issues that will come up, particularly of a legislative nature, so that we can respond to those. We can send people down to the Capitol to testify on for or in opposition of proposed legislation or just generally advocate for additional funding, whether that's transportation funding or stormwater or sewer water funding. What have you? We have a really good relationship on there, but there's not a formal. I don't think we're in an affiliate organization of the League, are we?

Deb Heiser:

Well, we so, from a legislative perspective, you're not going to just let people know. We have a number of committees in SIEM, and the legislative committee is one which actually marked as a really wonderful job of chair. Yeah, somebody chairs that.

Marc Culver:

Somebody chairs that Somebody named our color chairs that.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, and so the League of Minnesota Cities actually the SIEM has a contract with them for just administration, so they handle our finances. But really, when it comes to this legislative portion, it's about helping each other. The League of Minnesota Cities and this could be another conversation majority of the cities in Minnesota are a part of the League of Minnesota Cities and they provide insurance and they provide lobbying and guidance and policy direction and they do an excellent job for the communities in Minnesota and they have this whole and I'm going to totally mess it up the lobbying group. It's the G. Yeah, I actually yeah, anyway, there's an initials for that. I apologize. Yes, but they have a lobbying group and when things come up and if you've ever been engaged in the legislature or gone to testify at the Capitol, it is fast and furious.

Marc Culver:

Intergovernment, intergovernmental relation.

Deb Heiser:

IGR there's. The acronyms are so much fun. But the thing is is that when the issues come up that will affect cities, will affect our profession, will affect the funding, will affect our roads, whatever it is, speed limits that group, the League, wants the experts there and having that relationship, whether it's especially with legislative. It's very loosely affiliated. We can go down and testify and be experts and I think it's very well received by our legislators.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, and it gets a little interesting because the League is very organized and very formal. They have a board of directors that is made up of elected officials and other appointed officials and they spend a lot of time coming up with a legislative agenda and some of those items are related to engineering items a lot of art. But we and I don't want to say we conflict sometimes, but there are times where something will come up that the League doesn't have a position on. That we feel very strongly about. And you mentioned speed limits. Speed limits was a great example, and this was back in 2019, I believe it was the year before COVID. There was a proposal, a proposal legislation, to give cities the authority to set their own speed limits on their roadways the roadways that were under their jurisdiction not county roadways, not state roadways, but just city streets and we did not want that authority. We felt very strongly as engineers that we should not have that authority. We had a very established procedure for setting speed limits. I personally, and I think, a lot of other people in our organization but I know there were a lot of people in our organization that didn't necessarily feel this way felt that we should probably look at changing your statutory speed limit to 25 miles per hour because it's at 30, but that was not what the legislature wanted to do, and they were tired of hearing from the engineers that we can't do this, that we can't give cities the authority to do this, and so they kind of, and the League just said you know what, we don't have a position of this, and part of that is because there's a group of cities that want that authority yet and there's a group of cities that don't want that authority, and so there is disagreement and there's not a consensus position, and so the League can't take a position, and so we're kind of standing out there by ourselves. But they still helped us set up testimony opportunities and give us an opportunity to talk to some legislators in that, and so they still helped us in that regard, but they did not formally have a position, so they weren't helping us lobby one way or the other.

Deb Heiser:

Well, and the challenge I think sometimes in whether it's CIME or the League or any organization, is that CIME has 350 members and so in the League has I'm not sure how many cities are in the League. How do you build consensus? It's that same thing is that each of the cities have their own boards and their councils, and the League has the same thing. So there's a lot of things that all the cities can agree on local control and I think that this is a great example of how, sometimes in the legislature, even in an organization, how do you build consensus among 350 people? And I remember when you had people raise hands at the conference how many people think it should be this way, and I don't think you had 50% that said yes either way, and so that's the real interesting thing when it comes to those matters.

Marc Culver:

Right, and what's interesting about that, like you said, is it's usually we try to when we are testifying in front of the state center and the state house of representatives, and we try to get the president out there or somebody that's on the executive committee or the board, but all of those members like you, you are currently on the executive committee. You're the secretary, yeah, and so for the last few years, I was the president in 2017 of SEAM and I was a an employee of the city of Roosevelt's time. You are an employee of the city of St Louis Park, so you can't necessarily go down to the Capitol and just completely remove yourself from your day job as the director of engineering for the city of St Louis Park and the city engineer, and so that gets into a situation where, as an organization, we may we may have that consensus, we may feel very strongly about a certain position, but we may not think our city you know, our city council of the city that we work for feels that same way, and it kind of puts us in an odd scenario, because we don't ever want to go there and give the impression that we're representing our city or a position that they may not be in favor of. Yeah, you know. So it's a little weird. It puts us in kind of a strange position in those lobbying efforts. But again, generally we can find somebody else that isn't in a caught conflicting situation like that and you know, we just have a really great roster of engineers that we can tap to help us with that. As far as testifying in that, so yeah, so that you know, we kind of got off on a tangent. We're going to legislate a committee On the legislative side, but there are other committees, matt, there are. I know, I know, I know, I, you know it's the committee. Let's be honest.

Deb Heiser:

To be honest, it's probably a teasing mark it is the committee that probably has the most activity, yeah, you know. And again, coming back to the mission is about helping each other. Coming back to that mission is about furthering the professionalism in our organization. But we have a lot of other things. We have a lot of resources committee. I mean we have some. The leadership by Dan Edgerton it talks about, you know, rulemaking, whether there's a new NPDES permit coming up or the NPCA excuse me, the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit Very nice. Yeah, there you go, I know all the initials. And then there's the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. You know what are the rules we have. We had the Department of Labor and Industry and we had some situations occurring with some interpretations of rules with that, and so the Water Resources Committee was very involved with that, trying to stay on top of those changes and speaking about what the unintended consequences could be. We have a scholarship I mean that's another thing to further our profession. We have a scholarship committee and we have $21,000 a year that we give out to students whether they're technical backgrounds or civil engineers standards and specifications, and I think this is unique. You can tell me if in your research. We have seen standards. So in general in Minnesota and I'm not sure what it's like in other states or even across the world I've only lived in Minnesota we have a. For the most part cities and counties will use MnDOT specs for our building, our construction. Right standard specifications Standard specifications that are MnDOT Contract language, yeah, et cetera and so on. Just kind of keep it simple, make it easy for the contractors. We also, though the MnDOT doesn't have sanitary sewer and water main.

Marc Culver:

Right.

Deb Heiser:

And so we have a seam standards, we have seam specifications for utilities, and there's a whole committee that reviews those, updates them, keeps on top of you know whether it's ASTI standards or whatever the case may be. I think that that's really helps us be competitive with bidding for contractors, because you know if you go to Roseville it's a different rule than if you go to St Louis Park, or you know, this way it's more standardized, it's easy for contractors, it makes us competitive, yeah yeah, and again there's that technical aspect of it too, because you know the specifications do get into some of the details, such as pipe material and things like that, and so it really helps.

Marc Culver:

you know, maybe a younger engineer or a you know community that's maybe starting to do some of their own projects for the first time. They don't have to reinvent the wheel. You know they have to go do that research of. You know what's working, what's not working, and they can use those standard specifications. And you can still use the seam standards specifications as like the default and then go in and make changes to it.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, absolutely, because I use water as hydrants. Those are the best. Another city would say no, no, no, no, no. It's funny to go. So sorry, that's a shameless plug.

Marc Culver:

It's okay. It's okay, but you're right it's. You know, it's kind of like some people love Apple phones and some people love Android. It's just one of those things.

Deb Heiser:

But it's again. This is how we can be more useful and more efficient for those that we serve. You know? Yeah, it's no reinventing the wheel. It's always easier to plagiarize than it is to, I'm sorry. Not plagiarize to build on somebody else's work. Yes, yes.

Marc Culver:

But yeah, and so it's just really interesting. You know each of these committees as a chair and then there's several members and you know it's not like there's strict membership rules or anything else like that. If you're really interested in a in water resources, or we have a traffic safety committee, that has quite a few members in that with you know, tim Plath from Egan chairs that one.

Deb Heiser:

We're having. We just had a webinar with a traffic safety committee led on. Excuse me, it's coming up. The SEEM does four webinars a year, right.

Marc Culver:

Right. Talk about speed limits. Yeah, talk about speed limits, yeah.

Deb Heiser:

And then there's, you know, some real strength with these volunteers. These are again. These are all volunteers. The leadership, tim Plath. The traffic safety, paul Hornby, is the standards and specifications. Am I missing any water resources?

Marc Culver:

Well, I think the probably besides the legislative committee, you know the most active. We have a communications and website. That's right, yeah, and my Turner from SRF is on that or chairs that one but probably the most active committee is the annual conference planning committee and I think that really highlights one of the the outstanding products of SEEM is our annual meeting. We always have an annual meeting. The last starts the last Wednesday of January every year and you know it's three days and it's really geared towards municipal engineering. You know so it's and it's it's the whole gamut of topics you know getting into water resources, getting into water distribution and sanitary sewer and and transportation. We also do some really good leadership sessions. We talk about asset management and GIS and just you know a really wide variety of of topics and I personally think and of course I'm biased, but I personally think that that's one of the best conferences. You know that that is out there on a regular basis.

Deb Heiser:

And I, I, I agree, I, you know, as far as conferences are concerned, just cutting edge, really looking at how to building again, how can we help each other, educate each other? Recently we started to do a 101. So we, we do these wonderful things about these amazing projects that are going on around the, around the Twin Cities, the Highland Bridge and St Paul, and all the innovations that were completed with the Ford plant redevelopment. That was a very interesting session that was done in a. You know just how we, how they, tackled the problems of brownfield development. We have the, the new rules. You know what the new permits are going to mean for us from from a city's perspective, and so a lot of these things are are just new information. But we've started going so far as to do a 101 for the, maybe the younger engineers or the, even the field staff or technicians that are coming in to learn about things such as financing. You know what are, what is out there is financing. You hear bonding, what is TIF, right? You know I mean tax increment financing, and really those are just things that when I was just starting out 25 years ago, you know I learned them. I learned them through asking the finance director through, you know trial and error and and et cetera and so on, but Google or whatever, and so getting that information so that these young engineers can learn. So we've been trying to cater and be very nimble with what we're doing. It's not all technical the.

Marc Culver:

You know the coefficient of age and you know it and, to be honest with you, not a lot of it actually is. You know it's. You know one of the one of the sessions we had. We had two sessions last year that I thought were really interesting. They're kind of built on that and and kind of that format. We had a like a contracting 101. Yes, you know like what, what are the basic levels of contracting and and some of the state limitations, or you know legal limitations for cities to contract and this and the other. But then we had like a graduate level contracting session as well, talking about a little bit more innovative contracting methods like design build when can a city use the design build contracting method and even procurement, like when can you use a best value procurement method for hiring a contractor, and those are some really interesting things that you know newer engineers may not, may not have any experience with or really understand when they can or cannot use it, and so then they're not thinking about that as they're putting the projects together.

Deb Heiser:

So in in we, we teach each other and I think that that is the strength of the organization. It's the networking that is really important as well. We had and again during COVID, we had one year where we went virtual and it was a great conference. But the thing I missed the most was connecting and having those side conversations and whether it was agreeing or disagreeing with the colleagues, you know, you know, I thought that was a great session and this is why we do it that way. Well, that's, you know, that's ridiculous, why do you do it that way? But to have those, those point counterpoint conversations, that's that's another strength of the organization, as well as the conferences that are that are put on. But it's interesting and I did not mean to dismiss the planning committee because it to me that that is just that is just such a dedicated group of people I think there's 40 people on the planning committee.

Marc Culver:

It's, it's, it's a. It's a very large number and it's a little bit fluid, but we we have some people that have been on there forever. Eric Sieberg, from Bolton Manke is is the co-chair, and it's an interesting setup because the vice president is always a co-chair and then we have a a more regular co-chair and he took over recently from Joe Ryan, who who ran this thing for ages and had these spreadsheets and and he just spent so much time on it and so much effort and there was a lot of passion there from him. So, oh, joe, a lot for a lot of great conferences and such. But but yeah, and it and what's really great about it is it's a. It's a really broad representation from the consultant center involved in in you know, municipal engineering in in Minnesota and from you know all levels of of cities in the metro and out state and and and everything. It's just a really great cross-section of people involved in in CEME and in municipal engineering in Minnesota. So that's how we come up with such such great sessions, because there's a lot of great ideas and, like you said, it's that networking and and meeting people so that when you do, you know, or you go to a session on alternative contracting or something like that, or water resources permitting or something like that. And then you go back and you're working and like six months later, like a question comes up and like oh crap, what was that? Or geez, I don't remember what I should do. Or you know, kind of worried about this, and you call the person up, you know what, and they pick up the phone and they're happy to help.

Deb Heiser:

Exactly. And then I think that that says so much for our profession and the our colleagues is that I have never Ben turned down when I made that phone call, right, it's like he did this thing. Could you send me the presentation? Yeah, it was. Yeah, I'm being a seal quotes, you know, and it was just you know. Even if I would you want to come and just talk about it, we can come on over, we will walk through what we did and yeah, I mean that's, it's you, you're.

Marc Culver:

You touched on something like we recently had a conversation with. Last few weeks you called me up and like what was going on with stripping and Roseville and and we could do a whole podcast on Dlaminated code the laminated yeah and you called up you know the street superintendents, you know Steve's Weber are the great Steve's Weber At Roseville and he took you out and he showed you. You know what was going on in Roseville and the different stages of it and and how they were treating it. And that's the kind of Relationship, like you said. Nobody is going to turn you down.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, and, and it's about you know, I know who the city engineer is of St Paul. I know who the city engineer of Hopkins or and Recognizing I think Hopkins did that or I think Minnetonka was working on that and being able to, you know, learn from each other. But I think the other part you know, and we've been talking a lot about the planning committee and so, just from a structure perspective, we have an executive committee. You mentioned I'm very honored to be elected as the secretary-treasurer this year, so I've been serving this year as secretary secretary treasure and I love doing minutes everybody Loves doing minutes when they do. And then moving on to the vice president the vice president is the co-chair of that planning committee, as you'd mentioned and then moving on to the president of the organization, and what I'm the thing is is that why they they were created some 1954. We were created help with Standards and also the gas tax.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, hey everyone. I just want to take a quick moment to thank our sponsor, bolton Mink, who is producing and editing our podcast.

Bolton & Menk:

At Bolton Mink, we believe all people should live in a safe, sustainable and beautiful community. We promise every client two things We'll work hard for you and we'll do a good job. We take a personal interest in the work being done around us and, at the end of the day, we're real people offering real solutions.

Marc Culver:

And I think that's a great segue into the other committee that is officially listed on our commit, the same committee web pages and municipal screening board. And what the hell is in the municipal screening board?

Deb Heiser:

There's. There's absolutely no screens involved.

Marc Culver:

No, I have no idea where they came up with the word screening I. Doesn't really describe what we do. No, but no. So what go ahead? Talk about what is the municipal screening board? That was why. What is our role in Distributing the gas tax in Minnesota?

Deb Heiser:

So I have been again had the honor of serving both as a district Representative on the screening board and then this this year I'm on the screening board as a part of the I forget we were called the, the board, the actual, the actual Governing board, the. The people go up there and get to take minutes and call it called order.

Marc Culver:

Yeah.

Deb Heiser:

But what? The screening board dot officer officers. Thank you. We're technically the the secretary treasurer, the vice chair and the president chair, I the chair. Yeah, so we, we, we mirror the same roles in the organization that we do with them, the municipal screening board, but the idea behind it is that there are volunteers from every district in the state. We have min dot districts. It's broken out according to district. There's a metro west and metro east, but then also cities of the first class are represented on the screening board and that, I believe, is the population is 200,000 over a hundred thousand over a hundred thousand. So any city that has over over a hundred thousand population automatically gets a seat at the table which in Minnesota is not.

Marc Culver:

We.

Deb Heiser:

We have Rochester for a deluge St Paul and many right and Duluth is technically under a hundred thousand.

Marc Culver:

But I think it's one of those things where once a first-class city always a first-class city and nobody has challenged that.

Deb Heiser:

But I think Duluth is down into the eighty thousand something population so there's 13 members of the, the screening board and this group sits down and talks about okay, we get this gas tax. We get, and you can talk about the percentages. How are we gonna divide that among the districts? How are we gonna divide that among the cities? What are the? What are the needs? How do we establish how the money gets, how that, you know, the money goes into a pot, the money becomes baked, baked into a pie. How do we slice that pie?

Marc Culver:

Yeah, and and and I would love those of you that are listening to this podcast that are not in the state of Minnesota or or even if you are and you have experience in other states about how that gas tax is distributed within Other states, in your state you know comment on whether that's in YouTube or or on LinkedIn or something. Comment on our page and let us know you know how that distribution works. So I'd love to make some comparisons to how Minnesota does it and and other states and the really interesting about Minnesota and love to hear about how other community, how other states may be like this or not. Is the legislature decide when decided that when the gas tax was established, the distribution would wouldn't just be based on Population or miles a road, but would be based on needs like what are your actual needs to replace your transportation system? And In Minnesota, or for cities, we're only allowed to designate 20% of our total mileage. Is 2020 20 right? 20% of our total mileage can be designated as state aid routes and those are the the rows that we can spend the gas tax money on for construction. And so we go through a huge exercise and it used to be a lot more complicated. We had a website or we're filling in like literally linear feet of curb.

Deb Heiser:

How many?

Marc Culver:

how much sidewalk? How many street lights right, how many street signals, traffic signals? What's the grading factors? Grading fail. Yeah, the soil factor, just all of these getting into the weeds. How about you know equations and and such? And that would generate a dollar amount of what you need to replace your transportation system or that state aid system but to further that, yeah, once you went through all the machinations to calculate your need.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah you got ten dollars and eight cents for every thousand dollars, or do you do it today? You do, that was before. That was before the legislature increased the gas tax.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, but back in 1958 when this all started, you know there were only. This just is kind of where we started from a, from a municipal standpoint, and there's a whole different system for our county state aid system on how they get their gas. We are focusing on city, yeah but we'll do a separate podcast on the CASA system sometime and I'll just be rate them the whole time. But there are. You know, in 1958 there were 58 state aid cities, so there were 58 cities over 5,000 population, which is a qualification for state aid city, and there were 920 miles In this need system and that actual construction needs dollar amount for all of those 58 cities was 190 million dollars, all right, and so they were getting $19 and 14 cents their. Their actual portion of the actual amount of money they got in that year Was equal to $19 and 14 cents per $1,000 of needs. All right, so if your city of that hundred ninety million dollars, if your city had ten million dollars in needs, then you'd get 10,000 times 19.14, you know. So hundred ninety thousand dollars, if my math's correct it Today, all right, in in 2020 on it I not get, then I not clip the whole thing. Hang on here. Today, 20. We have a hundred and fifty one cities over five thousand. So this is the good thing, you know. We have growth in our state. We have cities that are, every year that are, you know, seeing an increase in their population, and so today we've added 60, yes, cities. Well, actually 90 something, was it from 58? Oh, thank you for me, I got the 86 again to 151. So seven lesson art, so 93. We've added 93 cities in in 70 years or 65 years or whatever that is. And and now you know, we have 877 miles of streets that are collecting needs and we have 10 billion dollars of needs and now our needs per $1,000 is down to $10.54 per unit. So you would think that over 65 years, just by inflation, that number should be getting bigger.

Deb Heiser:

But I will say absolutely that is true and the wonderful news is that, again, I would appreciate feedback from others in the nation. Internationally, I don't know that every state has a gas tax. Right. And when you look at it we aren't trying to do sour grapes here it's just that this is the state of our infrastructure we have. The city of St Louis Park has about 150 miles of streets. The condition of those streets are under 60 from an average perspective and you look at what the funding needs are, just what we're talking about right now is just the streets that are at 20%. In the city of St Louis Park we have 33 miles of state aid streets, so 120 miles of streets. Don't get this gas tax dollars and we have to pay for those locally. We have to use our other money for it, and that's the bottom line. Is that it's a state of our infrastructure and it's great to have a gas tax? Yes, but when you look at even the federal gas tax, is it really taking care of what we?

Marc Culver:

have no, no and it's not. And clearly, the federal gas tax is at 18.5 cents per gallon and that hasn't gone up since I saw the number not that long ago. I don't remember if it's been a long time.

Deb Heiser:

So we are really excited for this year and the legislature this year actually is indexing the gas tax. It's the first time in the history of the gas tax.

Marc Culver:

Which is huge. Just a 120 second offshoot here on the legislative process, going into the final weeks and even the final days of the legislative session. And we have this massive transportation Omnibus bill and we're all just trying to keep up with all the proposals and everything. And the proposal from the House, proposal from the Senate, comes together in a conference committee to try to hash out the differences and nowhere in there is an increase in gas tax. Nowhere on either bill from the House of the Senate is there an increase in the gas tax. There's other funding sources, like a 50 cent delivery fee and some other things, and an increase in the registration Small cities account. Small cities account. Okay, there's all sorts of other stuff in there, but there was nothing in. And then all of a sudden, boom, out of the conference committee comes an indexed gas tax or all just like boom, yeah, yeah.

Deb Heiser:

And now we're not complaining, no, no, this is like the best thing that ever happened. I did the 10 year projection for the city of St Louis Park. Holy Hannah, I mean we are finally gonna catch up, are you?

Marc Culver:

really yes, Like so. Can you give me some numbers, Well off the top of your head?

Deb Heiser:

Off the top of my head. So with an index, so we've got the projections from state aid end of June and so it starts out. We usually get $1.4 million a year. Then it goes to I think we get an additional 100,000 in 2020. So 24, it'll be like almost 1480-ish. Then it goes to 15 something or 1.5 million something and it keeps. You know, they're saying no more than 3%, but I was projecting what if we did get 3%. But looking at how inflation has affected us over the last five years in construction, if we get 3% a year, I think we're gonna finally be able to do what we need to do with our construction.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yeah.

Deb Heiser:

So I think we were getting, we were getting within that 10 year. We were getting $2 million a year in construction.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, and there's a lot of other factors involved with that. I mean, these are all projections and we're all buying, hopefully, hopefully, people are all buying more fuel efficient vehicles and we're getting electrified vehicles and hybrid vehicles and such and you know, and that will lower the revenue and that is a national conversation that's going on. It's a conversation that's going on for the last 20 years. As far as what is the next evolution of the gas tax, how are we going to collect revenue for our transportation system?

Deb Heiser:

Yep, is this sustainable? You know, that's assuming everybody in 10 years is still gonna have a gas car.

Marc Culver:

Well, right, right, right, and we need to figure it out a different way. And there are even pieces of the legislation. This transportation bill that came out in 2023 in Minnesota recognizes that and they were trying to find alternative funding sources, recognizing that the gas tax is an eroding revenue source and that's the increase in the registration fees.

Deb Heiser:

Well, on the delivery fee. So they actually have added a delivery fee and that funding will go towards again, streets will go towards getting it so the delivery trucks can actually get to the houses. But it's over a hundred dollars. There's all sorts of caveats on it. It's 50 cents, but you know, looking and tying that. But what is sustainable? And that's the bigger question with any of our infrastructure conversations what's sustainable? So we went down a rabbit hole.

Marc Culver:

We did we did, which is fine. I like rabbit holes. But just to put this in perspective, you know, like Deb was saying, we have an index gas tax and currently Minnesota's gas tax is 28.5 cents per gallon, and that's on top of the federal 18.5 cents. The interesting thing is or 18.4 cents, but the interesting thing is, I'm not sure when that increase kicks in. It must be January 1st 2024. So theoretically, on January 1st 2024, we should see that 28.5 go up by 3%.

Deb Heiser:

So whatever that number, is yeah, it's being feathered in a little bit. So, yeah, the first three years, I think it's more because we have to catch up.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yeah, and I think they said that within the next three, four years the gas tax will go up five cents.

Deb Heiser:

Yes.

Marc Culver:

So we would be at 33.5 cents, probably by 2025, 2026. Actually, more probably like 2026, 2027, because it would start in 2020.

Deb Heiser:

But I'm gonna put a caveat on that. Indexing is great, but keep in mind, every city that reaches that 5,000 mark gets on the system. Right, right, and that you know that's been a great segue.

Marc Culver:

Getting back into how our gas tax is distributed in the state of Minnesota. Highs getting bigger, but there's more slices. And again, I would love to hear from other states, whether you email me, put a comment on our website, thepublicworksnerdscom, or some comments on our LinkedIn page or what have you, but let us know how your states do that without me having to research all 50 states. It'd be great. But in Minnesota here you know, we have what's called a highway users tax distribution fund. So all of the gas tax goes into that, the license fee goes into that, the motor vehicle sales tax goes into that, and then we also have a special. Well, all of the sales tax set is collected for auto parts sales tax not all of it, but a portion of it, and that's another thing. That changed is what percentage of that is going into the HUTDF. But that goes into this HUTDF, the highway users tax distribution fund. So then from there that fund gets distributed between state highways, county state aid highways and municipal state aid highways, and again, the municipal state aid highways is at 20% of the mileage in cities over a population of 5,000. And so after we take off some, we take an initial amount off for some research and some administration and paying all of our friends at the state aid office and MnDOT which are great, great resource for cities and counties. We get down to the distribution of the Trunk Highway Fund, which is the state roads gets 62% of the money, then the County State Aid Highway Fund gets 29% and the municipal state aid account gets 9% and it's 9% of the 95% because again we had that 5% taken off the top Now and I remember I was giving an update to our League of Minnesota, our Transportation Alliance Group, in November and we had a county engineer that was giving an update on the county side and I get up there and I asked him and I was talking about him and he laid out a very good presentation on funding challenges on the county side for the county and it was really all three of us, we're all in this together with construction costs, construction costs and the lowering or the erosion of the gas tax. As far as revenue collection and this at the other, I mean, there are a lot of things that are going on right now that make our money go not nearly as far as it used to. But I got up there and I said you know how many counties are there in the state of Minnesota? And there's like 80, some counties. I can't remember the exact number, I'm sorry, I'll look it up, but there's 80, let's say it's 84 counties. I said, okay, how many counties were there in 1958? 84. How many counties are there today? 87. 87 counties. And I said, yeah, so in Minnesota, if we're on the municipal side, we had and we're repeating those numbers we had 58 cities in 1958 and now we have 151. So the pie has always been the same that 9%. We still have the same percentage now than we did in 1958. But now, instead of dividing it up 58 ways, we're dividing it up 151 ways.

Deb Heiser:

I think we need to look up lane miles then too. Yeah, anyway, I'll tell another conversation.

Marc Culver:

But so that's the challenging part on the municipal funding side, and the problem is we can't just change that. That is in the state's constitution, those, that distribution and everything, and so we would actually have to go to the voters to change that. And you can't explain this to the voters. Oh yeah, and it's going to be. It would become a referendum on transportation funding. And is it too much or too little? And gas tax I don't want my gas prices go up. And so we are where we are and it's not going to change.

Deb Heiser:

Well and again, are there other states that have this E2? Right, I mean, that would be very interesting to find out. And you brought up the research too in one of the. It is one half of 1%, but I think the Minnesota is unique and I'm going to go down another rabbit hole. The local road research board is funded through this one half of 1% and that is unique in the nation. Having have been again, I volunteer for a lot, I think I'm a yeah, anyway, I was on the local road research board for five years and that group funds research on the stuff we've been talking about Traffic speeds, you know, roundabouts, all of the above, and what's the best way to?

Marc Culver:

One of our former our past podcast episodes was actually on social media for work use and that was a result of a local road research board funded study or effort to produce a guide for public agencies on using social media.

Deb Heiser:

And the local research board is our R&D. I mean it's the trend that for the state of Minnesota it's the civil engineers, the county engineers, the city engineers, state engineers, research and development wing, and not every government agency has, you know, municipality has that, and so that's kind of a cool thing too.

Marc Culver:

And that is like you said, that is funded through this highway users tax distribution fund. So, yeah, so the local road research board is funded through this, a great offset of this. But it just, you know, it just kind of gets to that point of you raise all this money up and then it just kind of filters through this whole flow chart and then it gets to your city, you know, and sometimes it doesn't look as big as it seemed when things were getting passed, but still, well, we're not going to complain about getting more money.

Deb Heiser:

No, and again, I think that this is just talking about the structure. I mean, that was the purpose of our conversation is, you know, to talk about the seemed to talk about the inner, how it intermixes with the gas tax today, and so I think that I really want to see these comments, I want to learn more about this from the nation.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, it's. I hope people really do respond to that solicitation. I mean the three people that are listening to it outside of the state of Minnesota or Australia. I know I've seen downloads in Australia. So like, how does Australia distribute their transportation funding down into the weeds, down to the local agencies?

Deb Heiser:

And one of the challenges is that we've I think we've talked offline on this is that you know, we're talking highway, we're talking about transportation right now, and transportation is roads, it's bikeways, it's sidewalks, it's street lights, it's signals. Fill in the blank here. The other thing that's really interesting interesting about being a part of SIEM and being a city engineer, municipal engineer is that's not all we do Right, right, and that's the knock I have on.

Marc Culver:

It's kind of a constant rant I guess I give to MnDOT and the counties is hey, listen, you guys, you spent a lot of time and effort talking about transportation because that's your prime. For the MnDOT people, oh, absolutely, they're only thing. And the county people it's probably 80% of what they do. They still have to worry about drainage ditches. Some of them are dealing with maybe waste, solid waste Right an airport here. Is there Right an airport here? There are some facilities, but you know, like 80% of their time and effort is on their roadways.

Deb Heiser:

And public works. I mean, you look at what public works people do. What public works professionals do is that we work through land use, we work through snow plowing, we work through I guess the county's deal it's snow plowing. We work through, you know whether it's buses and making sure that speeding on our roads or solid waste you brought that up but land use what are the impacts of a redevelopment going to be policy? How do we do ride share? How are we going to implement a mobility in our city? And that's the thing that is so exciting about being a municipal engineer. Every day is different, but that is also the challenge. Like I said before, when you're sitting there and you're 350 members. Each community has their own personality, their own culture, their own. The council has their own priorities. We all have different ways to approach the different things that we do, because they're so divergent yeah, they're so different.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, and I think you know what you were talking about is or a lot of the examples that you just gave are still like transportation related, but they're transportation related on the city level, which is completely different than.

Deb Heiser:

And I forgot to bring up utilities. I apologize. Yeah, water and sanitary.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, You've got sanitary sewer and water and storm water and everything else that makes life as a municipal engineer challenging, very interesting, very diverse. But yeah, we can't.

Deb Heiser:

Yeah, when you look at Minda, you look at the counties. They don't have to worry about water distribution, lead pipes, they don't have to worry about those things, and that because of the focus, I think that they are able to build consensus among their organizations. But I think that we are our diversity, our different personalities, that are the different cities that they can make a sense of richer, because we have so many things that influence what we do.

Marc Culver:

Yeah, yeah, well said. So, getting back to the beginning of this, it's a very unique call to action, I guess, that that seam has, and getting involved in the distribution of the gas tax and really talking about how are needs calculated, how is that distribution kind of set up and some other of the things that we can control, and MnDOT and the state aid office is really good about engaging the actual city engineers, the practitioners at the city level, at the local level, on how that works and how should we distribute your money. And that gets into that screening board. And we have representatives. Not only do we have the officers, but then we also have the states divided into several districts and then we have representatives from city engineer representative from each district so that we make sure we get a metro perspective, we get a greater Minnesota perspective, we get a perspective from the city that's in the northeast corner and the southwest corner of the state, so that we make sure everybody's perspective is included as we talk about some things. So yeah, just kind of like in summary, I don't know what else do you wanna say. The city engineer association seems great organization.

Deb Heiser:

I cannot speak enough about how much seam has been helping with leadership, helped me learn with networking. If you know again, if you're in Minnesota and you're ever curious about, we're gonna put this in the show notes, right, we would. Yeah, the city engineers association winter conference is really well done and very great topics and it's for all blocks of engineering and even public works. So from my perspective it has been a real value for me to be a part of the organization. So, yeah, me too.

Marc Culver:

I can't imagine what my career would have been had I not gotten involved with and I credit my former boss and Asheville City engineer public works director. Shout out to Chuck All Right, right, we both were fortunate enough to have leaders that you know encouraged us and pushed us to get involved in these organizations, and had I not been as active and seam as I had, I don't know where I'd be today, you know. So I really owe a lot to the organization and the people that were involved in that and helping my career. And so again, you know we've talked about this in several episodes now professional organizations, wherever you are, whatever field you're in, whatever level you're at, get involved, find an organization that speaks to you, that relates to your current position or where you wanna be, and get involved, meet people, network and grow. So, all right, well, thank you. Been kind of a unique episode, I would say, maybe not as well prepared as some of the other episodes we've had, but again encourage you to put some comments, help us and form us about how things are done in other parts of the country, even other parts of the world, as far as distributing transportation and funding, particularly gas tax funding, and what organizations you have in your area that may be a little unique, you know, outside of the APWAs and the ASCEs, and that you know some of those organizations that are, and even AWWA's that are unique to your state or region that we should know about.

Deb Heiser:

So and keep in mind. You know, again, we've been talking focusing mainly on SEAM, but we do have our Public Works Association or Minnesota chapter, what other organizations, as Mark said, that other communities, other states have would be really curious to find out more, what other places people can get engaged in.

Marc Culver:

Yep absolutely All right. Well, thank you, deb. Thank you, mark. One last thing before we go if you've enjoyed this episode and the podcast in general, we ask that you help us spread the word. If you're on LinkedIn, comment, put some comments in there about how your funding is done there, but don't just like the post, comment on it. It actually helps us spread the word more, helps with the algorithm and comment on our YouTube page, and that's another thing we've got to sponsor or promote. More is our YouTube page. Just look up Public Works Nerds on YouTube and all of our episodes are on video and you can find it there. Hi and, better yet, tell your colleagues about the podcast. Thank you, we will see you next week. Nerds out, nerd out ministre.

The City Engineers Association of Minnesota
Committees and Conferences in Municipal Engineering
Municipal Screening Board and Gas Tax Distribution
Minnesota Gas Tax and Infrastructure Funding
Challenges and Funding in Municipal Engineering