The extension of the regional half-cent sales tax will, hopefully, be approved by voters in all of our six area cities.
Thanks to that half-cent tax, facilities and improvements major and minor have been made possible in the past decade. They include the regional public library in St. Cloud and airport improvements. In St. Joseph, there have been park improvements and infrastructure enhancements made possible with sales-tax revenue. If the tax extension passes in St. Joseph, up to $10 million of the revenue would be spent for transportation improvements – streets, roads, infrastructure and possibly a form of mass transit. Up to $8 million can be spent on community facilities such as a community center, senior center, historical center and/or a branch library. Up to $4 million could be spent on regional trails, parks and open space. That includes bathroom facilities, water amenities, the expansion of shelters and the development of Sauk River Park.
Yes, opponents claim that 20 years is a mighty long extension of a special tax, to the point it could become a perma-tax. However, that fact must be balanced by the advantages of the revenue generated by the tax – making possible amenities and improvements that residents want but that cities, hard-strapped for money, are reluctant to make. And in some cases, such as repairs on major, regional roads, local governments would have to tax citizens anyway to make such crucial repairs.
And we should remember these amenities aren’t “frills” either. What could be more city-essential than a fine park? Or an aquatics center? Or a historical-society museum? Or a community center? Not to mention hiking-biking trail connections and extensions. All of those projects are under consideration in one or more of our six cities for expenditures if the tax is extended from 2018 through 2038. It’s those kinds of facilities that give any city life-enhancing qualities – a combination of social, recreational and cultural enhancements. Such amenities also tend to attract new businesses, new workers, new families. One of the very first things businesses seek when relocating is the dynamism of a city, including amenities that enhance quality of life. Those considerations include quality of schools, along with social, recreational and cultural opportunities, and let’s not forget good roads. Polls also show residents are increasingly placing a strong emphasis on the need for hiking-biking trails and a variety of parks and green space.
As many proponents of the tax have pointed out, if a city votes down the half-cent sales tax, that city will get none of the revenue generated by the other cities, and yet the residents of that city will still have to pay the half-cent tax when shopping in the other cities. So, in essence, voting against the tax extension is akin to cutting off one’s nose to spite the face.
For those not familiar with how the sales tax works, here’s a brief explanation: once revenue is collected, the first $900,000 of it goes to a few major projects in the area that can be enjoyed by any and all residents. Those jointly funded projects this time around will include the interconnection of a regional trail system, a regional community aquatics center and regional airport enhancements. Any money above and beyond that annual $900,000 is given to the cities based on a formula that includes population. That will amount to many millions of dollars during the course of the 20 years of the tax.
While nobody loves taxes, this half-cent tax is the least onerous tax imaginable, especially considering the quality-of-life projects it will continue to make possible. So, please vote “yes” for the half-cent sales-tax question on the Nov. 4 ballot.