Editorial: It’s time to find out if sales tax plan will fly

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 26, 2003

The Albert Lea City Council had a tough decision to make about a study on the popularity of a sales-tax proposal. In a way, they couldn’t win. They could have voted to spend more than $20,000 on the survey and looked like they’re eager to fritter away taxpayer money on a survey about an issue that would have to pass in a referendum anyway. Yet, if they decided to skip the study and proceed with the sales-tax proposal at the state level, they could be accused of failing to gather adequate public input on the plan.

The local-option sales tax idea has been kicked around for years now, and with a watershed board now in place and preparing to start its work, funding for lake projects has become even more of an issue. It’s time to sort out once and for all whether this half-percent sales tax will work in Albert Lea, and although it isn’t free, a survey, which the council approved Monday, is the first step toward doing that.

If the survey turns up what seems like adequate support for the idea, the city can then go ahead with more detailed plans to take to the state legislature next year, and will go armed with evidence that the residents of the city support the plan. If the survey finds that the tax has too much opposition to overcome &045; certainly a possibility, with many residents already dissatisfied about rising taxes &045; the city could do the wise thing and drop the idea, saving the time and money that it would have cost to pursue the plan further.

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Members of the watershed board have argued that there must be more of a consensus on lake projects before a survey, so the public will have a better idea of what is at stake. But after years of public debate on the lakes, most people have already formed their opinion on things like lake dredging, and those who will oppose any new tax are unlikely to change their minds based on new information on the lake plan. The results of a survey six months from now probably wouldn’t be significantly different than the results of a survey now.