Hopes still pinned on sales tax

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Prospects look bad for a local option sales tax at this point, with the legislature withholding its approval, but Destination: Albert Lea (DAL) members and others in the community are still sanguine about their chances.

Proceeds from the sales tax were going to be used to help fund downtown redevelopment projects and lake cleanup work. Without those sales tax dollars, raising the amount of money needed for those kind of projects will range from difficult to impossible.

&uot;There’s no other option that would bring in that much revenue,&uot; said Paul Sparks, Albert Lea city manager. There’s no other source of revenue for lake cleanup work at all, at least from the city, added Sparks.

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While other options for funding downtown development have been discussed in a limited way, DAL members aren’t putting much energy into them until they see that the sales tax idea is defeated.

&uot;I don’t think we’re going to move forward on any other ideas until we know for sure that the local option sales tax is dead,&uot; said Amy Belden, a Destination: Albert Lea board member and the group’s treasurer.

As Belden sees it, among those options are looking more closely at TIF districts, applying for grants, or looking at low-interest loans available through government programs. There has also been discussion of the possibility of arranging to buy a downtown property to redevelop and then sell, using any profits to buy another to redevelop, in a continuous cycle of renovations.

Whatever happens, the project would need to be on a much smaller scale.

According to Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, any hopes for passing the proposal at this point are slim, although nothing should be counted out until the session is over. The sales tax legislation, which includes Albert Lea and a couple of other communities, is stalled, along with much of the rest of the legislature’s tax package, as House and Senate leadership negotiate a final bill.

The sales tax is still alive on the Senate side, because it was added to the Omnibus Tax Bill by Sen. Grace Schwab, R-District 27, said Dorman. But unless those involved in the conference committee negotiations see that as a priority, it won’t survive, he said. Dorman doesn’t foresee having the opportunity to amend any bills on the House side in order to keep the local option sales tax proposal alive.

Lack of action on Albert Lea’s proposal, as well as on several other local-option proposals that came before the legislature this session, raises the possibility of discussions about having the legislature get out of the local-option sales tax arena altogether. Any such change, however, would probably also involve changes to the way Local Government Aid is allocated, said Dorman, making that possibility more controversial.