by Dennis Dalman
In the past decade, the City of Sartell has collected just about $4.7 million in regional half-cent sales-tax revenue – revenue that has been used for a wide variety of city projects of a regional nature.
Now, area cities are asking the Minnesota Legislature to allow voters to extend that sales tax from 2018 to 2038. Legislative approval is expected to be announced any day soon. The half-cent sales-tax was first approved in a referendum in 2002 by the cities of Sartell, St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids and St. Augusta.
Two years later, the residents of the cities of St. Joseph and Waite Park also voted to take part in regional half-cent sales-tax collection and distribution. In 2006, voters in those six cities voted in another referendum to extend the sales tax to 2018.
The concept behind the sales tax was – and is – to allow a funding source for projects that would benefit the entire six-city greater St. Cloud region, including roads and parks. Two of the biggest regional projects were construction of the St. Cloud Area Public Library and improvements at the St. Cloud Regional Airport. Other projects within individual cities included land acquisition for trails and parks, park development and improvements, athletic fields, transportation projects and other amenities of regional importance.
When voters approved the sales tax, they could also vote on which projects the tax revenue should be spent. Cities took surveys and held public meetings with residents to determine which kinds of projects people preferred.
That same public-input process is required if the State Legislature once again approves a sales-tax referendum for the six cities. And that is why city staff and others are preparing now for a sales-tax extension – to get those processes in place and ready to go before the current sales tax expires in 2018.
Those processes include city planning, as well as plenty of time for public suggestions, comments and questions.
The following are projects, made possible by sales-tax revenue from 2003-2006, that were funded partly through the half-cent sales tax. A total of $1.611 million was collected during that three-year period.
Voters authorized those funds to be spent on “community center and/or parkland acquisition and park improvements.”
• Acquisition of Sartell Golf Course land for the creation of the city’s Pinecone Central Park: $601,350.
• Acquisition of land for Rotary Park at the edge of the Mississippi River: $89,150.
• Acquisition of Shay property parkland along the Mississippi River: $104,820.
• Pinecone Regional Park improvements (trail, playground, park shelter, site grading, parking lot): $677,840.
• Champion Baseball Field improvements (field drainage, irrigation, dugout): $33,840.
• Val Smith Park improvements: $103,810.
Since 2007 to date, the City of Sartell has collected nearly $3.1 million in sales-tax revenue. By the year 2018, when the current tax extension expires, it is expected Sartell will have received about $11 million in revenue.
For the second phase of the tax (the years 2007-2018), Sartell voters approved the use of up to $24 million (estimated) for “land acquisition, parks and trails, community resource facilities and regional roadways.”
Based on revenues received and projected revenues, the Sartell City Council has spent or committed, so far, sales-tax revenue in an amount of $7.478 million with an additional $240,000 allocated for land acquisition for future “town-square” development near Pinecone Road S.
Also, depending on how much sales tax is actually generated for Sartell’s share, the council plans to spend nearly $1.7 million for projects roughly defined as “athletic, recreation, parks and trails,” as well as $1.6 million for “community resource facilities,” such as, perhaps a branch library, a community meeting center and/or a senior center.
According to the Great River Regional Library System, the earliest a branch library could become a Sartell reality is 2016.