Half-cent sales tax proposed for roads
Next Tuesday, Douglas County Commissioners will consider a Local Option Sales Tax for Transportation – it’s a countywide half-percent sales tax increase that would fund county road repairs.
In the meantime, an informational meeting on March 20 sorted out the public’s questions, comments and concerns regarding the new tax.
Plus, at that meeting, a petition surfaced indicating at least 100 county residents are opposed to the sales tax increase.
WHAT IS THE LOCAL OPTION SALES TAX?
A local option sales tax would fund county road improvement projects in Douglas County totaling about $35 million.
If approved, sales tax countywide would increase by 0.5 percent and generate about $3.5 million per year for 10 years.
The money will be used to rebuild 11 segments of county roads (listed above).
“These roads we’ve identified really need to be constructed, rather than a surface treatment overlay. The roads were generally built in the 1950s or earlier, so they were built to an older standard,” Robley said.
The county’s state aid allocation has not kept up with the increased construction costs to maintain the county roads system, he added.
If the county board approves the sales tax increase during its April 1 meeting, the tax could be in effect as early as July 1.
In Alexandria specifically, the sales tax rate would increase from 6.875 percent to about 7.3 percent.
Last year, the state Legislature authorized county boards to impose a 0.5 percent sales tax by resolution following a public hearing, which will be held April 1 at 9:05 a.m. in the commissioners’ meeting room at the Douglas County Courthouse.
The funds generated by a local option sales tax must be used for the capital cost of a specific transportation project or improvement.
The taxes must terminate when revenues are raised to finance the project.
PETITION AGAINST THE TAX
During the March 20 informational meeting, several people in the crowd spoke up and asked questions about the sales tax and what it would be used for.
Bob Kuhlman, owner of Allure Tan and Spa in Alexandria, handed a stack of papers to Robley and said, “I have a petition of 100 people who protest this tax.”
He said he set the petition out on his front desk and asked his customers if they were opposed to the new sales tax.
As a small business owner, Kuhlman said the half-percent sales tax increase would be pennies on a $5 tan.
However, he said, “For a $30,000 boat, I might go down to Sauk Centre. I’m a shopper… and I’m looking for the best deal.”
Kuhlman said he’ll continue to have a petition set out at his business and, if he gets more signatures, he said he’ll bring them to the county board meeting on April 1.
The petition Kuhlman presented at last week’s meeting was passed along to all five county commissioners, who also attended the informational meeting.
There’s also a petition set out at Alex Auto and Marine in Alexandria.
After hearing questions and comments, Douglas County Commissioner Bev Bales said, “We are extremely behind, to the extent now that even the economic development corporation with the state of Minnesota is saying if we’re trying to bring more businesses to the state, we’ve got to fix [roads]. What happens if we don’t fix them? As we know now, they’re getting worse and worse…they’re costing more and it’s a safety issue. I certainly don’t like to raise taxes any more than anyone else, but we can’t put all of this expense on your property taxes.”
Bales said she plans to support the local option sales tax.
Commissioners Jim Stratton and Charlie Meyer reported that about 40 percent of the $35 million in sales tax would be paid by people from outside the county spending money in Douglas County.
Meyer said, “If there is such a thing as seeing beauty in raising a tax, it’s that 40 percent is paid for [from] outside this county. But we don’t want you to start buying everything outside the county either.”
Commissioner Dan Olson added, “It’s really hard not to tap into that [40 percent]. This is one way – even with the big box stores – that we can get more from the Menards, Walmart and that type of thing because they’re going to be paying into that sales tax. It’s one of the upsides.”