by Dennis Dalman
Come November, voters in area cities, including Sartell, will have a chance to approve or reject an extension of the regional half-cent sales tax from Jan. 1, 2019 through 2038.
That 20-year time span of sales taxes could bring an estimated amount, collectively, of nearly $300 million to six area cities.
At its last meeting, the Sartell City Council approved the question that will be printed on the Nov. 4 ballot.
It states: “Shall the City of Sartell by authorized to continue the collection of a half-percent sales tax and use that tax (revenue) through the year 2038 to pay for all or part of the above listed regional projects?”
That question pertains to the following projects listed below, which are divided into two categories: “Roadways” and “Parks/Recreation.”
All or part of the acquisition, betterment and construction of new regional roadways or reconstruction of existing roadways and related infrastructure, which could include Pinecone Road, 50th Avenue S., 27th Street N., LeSauk Drive and other regionally significant roadway corridors. The amount spent for those projects cannot exceed 50 percent of the half-cent regional sales-tax revenues received by Sartell.
Acquisition and improvement of regional park land and open space and community/aquatic center facilities. The land acquisition could include trails, recreational fields, pools and shelters and similar facilities.
The community-center facilities could include gymnasium space, aquatics/pool facilities, library/media-resource facilities, community meeting rooms, senior-center activities space and similar facilities. Like the “Roadways” category, Sartell cannot spend more than 50 percent of half-cent regional sales-tax revenues on those parks/recreation projects.
Voting for the sales-tax extension will automatically approve several jointly-funded regional projects in the greater St. Cloud area. They include spending sales-tax money in the following amounts through the 18-year period:
Up to $500,000 annually for development and/or extension of bike-hike trails in the area.
Up to $200,000 annually for a regional community/aquatics center.
Up to $200,000 annually for improvements/expansions at the St. Cloud Regional Airport.
How it works
Residents of each of the six area cities will be asked to approve the half-cent sales tax on the Nov. 4 ballot – that is, if each city agrees to put the question on the ballot.
The cities are Sartell, St. Joseph, Waite Park, Sauk Rapids, St. Augusta and St. Cloud.
If residents in a city vote it down, that city will not be able to participate in sharing of the half-cent sales-tax revenue.
If the voters approve, the first $900,000 collected annually will go to the regional projects that all cities have agreed upon – that is, the major projects in the greater St. Cloud area: regional bike trails, community-aquatics center, airport projects. After that $900,000 disbursement, each city will receive a share of the funds based on a formula that includes size of population in a given city.
The Minnesota Legislature, in allowing the six cities to put the sales-tax question on their ballots, emphasizes the tax must be spent on “regional” projects only – that is, those kinds of amenities that could be used by anyone or everyone in the region. In addition, the revenue cannot be spent on operational costs for a city.
That is why regional half-cent sales-tax revenue cannot be spent on, say, a neighborhood road or any amenity that could be used only by residents of that particular city.
The regional half-cent sales tax started in 2003, after voters in 2002 approved it in four area cities: Sartell, St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids and St. Augusta.
Two years later, the voters in St. Joseph and Waite Park also approved the tax, bringing the number of cities to six.
Revenue since 2003 was used to fund major regional projects, such as the St. Cloud Public Library and expansion of the St. Cloud Area Municipal Airport, to name just two projects in St. Cloud.
In Sartell, 10 years of sales-tax revenue brought about $7 million to the city. That money was used for a variety of projects, including a partnership to build the Bernick’s Arena, a series of trails, an outdoor skating shelter and ice rink, improvements in Champion and Val Smith parks, the purchase of Rotary Riverside park land, the purchase of the private golf course for land which is now Pinecone Central Park.
In addition, the Sartell City Council has dedicated revenue expected to be received through 2018 for a community-resource facility ($1.6 million) and for park improvements ($800,000).
Throughout the years, including just recently, Sartell has sought input in a variety of ways, including surveys and public meetings, to determine on which kinds of projects residents want sales-tax money spent. High on that list consistently were a branch library, a community and/or senior center, parks and recreation, and road improvements.