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Kandiyohi County sets hearings on sales tax proposal for roads

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WILLMAR — The public will have a chance to comment at a pair of public hearings next month on a proposed countywide local option sales tax.

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to set the hearings for 6 p.m. Nov. 9 and 6 p.m. Nov. 13. Both will take place in the community room at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building.

The board's move marks yet another step toward adoption of a local half-cent sales tax. The tax, which has been under discussion by the County Board for the past several months, would generate an estimated $2.7 million a year for designated transportation projects.

The County Commissioners have made no decision yet whether to go ahead with a local sales tax. The hearings will be an opportunity to listen further to what the public thinks about the tax and about the projects proposed to receive sales tax funding, they said Tuesday.

"I think we should continue the conversation," said Commissioner Jim Butterfield.

County officials say the extra revenue generated by a sales tax will help close some of the gap between highway needs and available funds.

"We're trying to keep up with our system," said Mel Odens, Kandiyohi County Public Works director.

At a work session last month, the commissioners reviewed a list of potential projects for designation for sales tax money.

On Tuesday the list was narrowed down to four:

• Five miles of County Road 40 west of New London to increase safety and improve the driving surface.

• Three miles of County Road 44 east of Blomkest to bring the segment up to 10-ton capacity.

• An overpass on County Road 55 at the south end of the railroad bypass corridor west of Willmar, facilitating traffic movement through the corridor and promoting access to Willmar's industrial park.

• Reconfiguration of the County Road 40 intersection on the east edge of New London. This project dovetails with efforts by the Minnesota Department of Transportation to improve safety and traffic flow at the junction of Minnesota Highway 23 and Highway 9.

The four projects total $13 million over four and a half years. All meet essential transportation needs: safety, economic development and maximized leverage with upcoming projects by other partners, Odens said.

"There's a window of opportunity," he said.

Without revenue from the proposed sales tax, seven projects in the Public Works Department's five-year plan would either have to be eliminated or delayed beyond five years, Odens said.

Feedback so far from the public suggests that education will be important in making the sales tax proposal palatable to consumers.

Commissioner Rollie Nissen said he heard 90 percent support for the sales tax in an informal poll he conducted in August at the County Fair — but most of those responses were obtained after some conversation about local transportation needs and the purpose of the sales tax, he said. "That seemed to make a difference."

According to a financial analysis prepared last month by the county, adding $2.7 million to the annual property tax levy instead of collecting the money via a sales tax would raise property taxes by $96 a year on a $200,000 residence. For a 425-acre farm in the south half of the county, the annual property tax increase would be around $1,205.

Issuing $10 million in bonds to help fill the transportation gap would cost around $3.6 million in additional interest over 20 years.

By contrast, an individual would have to purchase $20,000 in taxable goods and services to pay $96 on a local sales tax, according to the county's calculations.

"If there's anything I hear far and above, it's 'Don't put the road projects on the property tax,'" said Commissioner Harlan Madsen.

If the County Board votes to go ahead with the sales tax, the earliest it could go into effect is April 2018. Counties that opt to impose the tax must give 90 days' notice to the Minnesota Department of Revenue and can only implement the tax at the beginning of a quarter.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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