Tide of negativity must recede for good to happen

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 19, 2001

Angry letters.

Monday, November 19, 2001

Angry letters. Angry comments. Angry signs by the road. Even the most casual observer can see that a good portion of Albert Lea is in a negative mode right now.

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There are serveral kinds of negativity going around. There’s the &uot;vote no&uot; negativity that overwhelmed our polling places on referendum day. This kind of bad vibe had several different species, ranging from &uot;I don’t think the school needs or deserves the money&uot; – a rather mild form – to &uot;get the hell away from my wallet, you vultures&uot; – a severe strain.

There is a kind of counter-negativity going around, too. This is the &uot;darn you people for voting no, what’s wrong with this town?&uot; negativity.

The negative attitude extends to another hot issue that has inflamed tempers: Farmland. Every time the Tribune reports on the Farmland story, we get a couple of comments on our Web site forums. They are usually well-reasoned, factual tidbits like &uot;Farmland is screwing Albert Lea, when will this town ever learn?&uot; Some are worse.

What’s the point?

The point is that the city council Monday passed a measure that at first glance seems to have quite a bit of potential, and if too many people get comfortable with this negative mode, this proposal runs the risk of being overrun by bad feelings before it even gets off the ground. I’m talking about the idea of a half-cent local sales tax to pay for downtown and lake improvements.

I, for one, have a pretty short memory. I was a bummed out for a while after the referendum failed, just as I have been affected one way or the other by most of the major happenings in this town. But give me a few days and I’m pretty much ready to move on.

Are you?

Some pretty controversial things have happened over the last few months, and it has seemed to divide us almost equally. This is among the vocal people, at least – the ones who make their opinions known. I can only guess that among those who don’t speak up, there’s a similar trend going on; it’s a sensible assertion.

Can we put it behind us? Can we turn our attention to something new without dragging grudges or bad feelings along? It’s only fair that everyone evaluate a new idea with a fresh perspective.

The idea is one that could have far-reaching ramifications. It’s up to everyone to decide if the good things that are being proposed are enough to offset the bad part – a new tax. But just because it’s a tax doesn’t mean it must get lumped in with the school referendum; it’s a totally different issue and a totally different tax.

The plan has a long way to go before voters would get a chance to weigh in. It must pass the legislature – possibly a daunting task – and if it does, it will be the subject of a long and ubiquitous marketing campaign.

But so far, the ideas put forth by Destination: Albert Lea are intriguing. The group is a broad-based coalition – among its members it counts lawyers, nurses, small business owners and housewives. They all came together for one reason: To do some positive things to improve our city, and possibly more importantly, to make us a little more proud to be Albert Leans. Fixing up downtown and finally doing something about the lakes can be a part of that.

The decision will need to be based on the details. What, precisely, will be done? And is it worth paying a new half-percent sales tax? I don’t know yet, but I would hate to see the idea discounted already, before a case can even be made.

The idea has a sound base. A sales tax is a great funding mechanism because food and essentials are not taxed; because those who don’t spend much won’t pay much; and because people who just visit will pay, too. We’re already paying for other cities’ improvement projects when we buy things in Mankato, Rochester and Winona. They already have local sales taxes.

Imagine Albert Lea’s new Wal-Mart and Home Depot, transformed into engines that produce a steady cash flow for local projects, much of it from outside the city. The possibility is arresting.

I just hope it gets a fair trial, and isn’t just executed and buried in the same graveyard as the school referendum.

Dylan Belden is the Tribune’s managing editor. His column appears Sundays.