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County hears pros, cons of proposed sales tax

WILLMAR - The Kandiyohi County Board heard pro and con from the public at a hearing Thursday evening on a proposed countywide sales tax to fund transportation projects.

About half a dozen people showed up to hear about the proposal and see the list of road projects earmarked for funding from sales tax revenue if the local tax is enacted.

More importantly, it was an opportunity for them to offer testimony, both for and against, before the County Commissioners make a decision.

The board was "here to listen," Chairman Roger Imdieke said at the outset of the hearing, which lasted less than an hour.

A second hearing on the sales tax proposal will be held at 6 p.m. Monday in the community room at the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Building.

The 2013 Minnesota Legislature gave counties the authority to impose a local option sales tax of up to half a cent to pay for designated highway projects. The tax sunsets when the projects are completed.

A half-cent sales tax in Kandiyohi County would generate an estimated $2.7 million a year to help fill the funding gap for local transportation needs deemed as critical. The county has proposed using the money for four projects totaling $13 million over four and a half years.

"We recognize that we have a gap," said Mel Odens, Kandiyohi County Public Works director. "We also have a great opportunity for making a difference."

Without revenue from the proposed sales tax, the county likely will have to eliminate up to seven projects from its five-year highway improvement plan, he said. "The need exists. We simply need to find a responsible way to manage it."

John Crossen of Spicer told the County Commissioners he'd rather see them set priorities and spend existing money instead of seeking more revenue through a sales tax.

"I think the sales tax is something that should not happen because a tax is a tax is a tax anyway you slice it," he said.

Crossen was one of three people who spoke during the hearing.

Although the proposed sales tax might have a softer impact on the average consumer, "this is the door opening that goes to the next door," he said. "Once the door is open, it's going to stay open."

The other two individuals who testified Thursday voiced support for the sales tax proposal

Denny Baker, mayor of Spicer, urged the County Commissioners to adopt the tax, saying it's fair and that the revenue would be put to good use.

"It's a good way for us to improve our roads," he said.

David Little of Willmar also urged a vote in favor of the sales tax. It's an opportunity for the County Board "to do what's right," he said.

"By doing do, you are responding to the needs of the public," Little said.

The county is collecting written comments as well and will continue to take feedback until the next hearing Monday evening.

To date, almost half of Minnesota's 87 counties are using the local sales tax option to fund transportation needs. If Kandiyohi County decides to join this list, the earliest a sales tax could be implemented would be April 1 of next year.

Anne Polta

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

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