The Douglas County Lakes Association and other groups have created a fund for lake water quality projects and is seeking to grow it through county funding, possible by a half-cent county sales tax.
"We have all these vacationers up here and they should be paying their fair share for cleaning up the waters," said Jan Beliveau, former lakes association president.
The nonprofit lakes association represents property owners on 27 lakes in Douglas County. In the past, it has won shoreland ordinances aimed at protecting water quality, and its members monitor water quality and lobby for protections for area lakes.
During the past year, the lakes association has worked on establishing a fund to help the county qualify for state grants. These grants often require matching funds from local entities. When money is not available to provide a local match, the county doesn't qualify for the grants.
Beliveau cited Ditch 23 draining into Lake Ida as one example. Considered "one of the largest, deepest and cleanest lakes in Douglas County," according to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, it is at risk of turning green due to too much phosphorus.
A half-cent sales tax would generate enough money to benefit projects such as protecting Lake Ida, she said.
The new fund, called the Douglas County Water Quality Legacy Fund, was created by the Douglas County Land and Resource office, the Nature Conservancy, Douglas Soil and Water, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the DCLA. It now totals $10,000, half provided by the lakes association and half by the county, and is being overseen by the Fergus Falls-based West Central Initiative. A half-cent sales tax could pump about $3 million per year into that account.
Douglas County already has a half-cent sales tax dedicated to roads and bridges. However, achieving a tax on behalf of the lakes could be an uphill battle.
"I don't know if the taxpayers are going to like that," said County Commissioner Keith Englund.
He called clean water "something we need to take care of," but said other issues also face the county.
"I'm not willing to pick this over something else," he said. Still, he wouldn't completely dismiss the idea and said the revenue generated could be split several ways.
County Commissioner Jim Stratton said he also doesn't think a half-cent sales tax would fly.
He supports putting from $50,000 to $100,000 into the new fund, which would have to be a line item in the county's 2019 budget. That means it could come up as soon as the commission's next meeting Tuesday, Nov. 6.
Stratton represents the commission on the Legacy Funding Committee and agrees that the county needs matching funds to protect area lakes.
"Once we get that number established, then that group can go out and get aggressive and put grants together," he said.
(This story has been updated to reflect the addition of four other groups that were part of the creation of the new fund, and to reflect that Steve Henry replaced Jan Beliveau in October as president of the lakes association.)