Council sees limits on sales tax proposal

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 19, 2001


Friday, October 19, 2001

The road to passing a local option sales tax is long and difficult, said City Manager Paul Sparks, so any proposal to come before the council must be narrow in scope but broad in its public benefit.

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Sparks said sales tax proposals that meet those criteria have the best chance of passing through the state legislature.

&uot;There has to be a narrow focus to any proposal. The more issues you try to address, the less likely the legislature will pass it,&uot; he told the city council at a budget workshop Thursday.

Council members said they will be looking for specifics when Destination: Albert Lea delivers its sales tax proposal at Monday’s council meeting. The organization announced this week it will ask the council to consider a 1 percent tax to fund lake restoration and downtown revitalization. Council approval would allow the proposal to go to the legislature and eventually to local voters in a November 2002 referendum.

Though no one stated outright opposition to a sales tax, many are already preparing their questions.

&uot;What do they mean by lake restoration? That means different things to different people,&uot; said Councilor Ron Sorenson. &uot;I’d like to hear what they mean and what they would have us do with the money.&uot;

Sorenson said he’s also interested to hear how a sales tax that funds lake restoration projects would work with Freeborn County’s watershed committee.

&uot;I’m concerned about a possible conflict,&uot; he said. &uot;When they talk about lake restoration, I want to know what exactly what they’re talking about and how it’s different from what the county is looking at.&uot;

Councilor Warren Amundson wondered about the decision to ask for 1 percent.

&uot;That’s the highest any city can ask for. I don’t know if it’s too high or not,&uot; he said.

It’s not easy to convince voters that a sales tax is the best way to fund local projects, Amundson said. &uot;I think sales tax proposals are generally hard to pass, but I’m willing to hear what they have to say,&uot; said Councilor Warren Amundson.

Sparks hopes members of Destination: Albert Lea realize that the city would be restrained in its use of sales tax revenue. Like any tax money, it can only be used for public purposes.

&uot;We can do the sidewalks, the utilities and the street lights – things like that – but we can’t simply give money to downtown businesses for renovations,&uot; he said. &uot;They’re always has to be private money involved in downtown projects to make them work.&uot;

Mayor Bob Haukoos said he’s not optimistic about the chances of a sales tax proposal passing in Albert Lea. &uot;Tax increases are always tricky, even when they have good ideas behind them,&uot; he said.