by Dennis Dalman
What do Sartell residents want as a regional sales-tax project in the greater St. Cloud area? Sprawling theme park? Gigantic athletic multiplex? Riverside arts-and-entertainment plaza? Aquatics center?
At this point, it’s OK to daydream. That’s why there will be a brainstorming open house from 3-7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22 at the St. Cloud Public Library. Everyone in the six cities in the greater St. Cloud area is invited to attend to give ideas for regional projects. An aquatics center has been high on the wish list for many years.
Residents’ input is important because all six cities are making plans for a half-cent sales-tax referendum. That sales tax was first approved in 2002 and then extended, with voter approval, in 2006. That latest extension is due to expire in 2018 unless voters once again approve it. The Minnesota Legislature has given approval for the six cities to extend the tax if voters so choose. The six cities are Sartell, St. Joseph, Sauk Rapids, Waite Park, St. Augusta and St. Cloud. A sales-tax referendum could occur as early as this November or as late as 2016.
This is how the regional half-cent sales tax works. One or more big regional projects must be built that would benefit all the cities’ residents. The major projects must be approved by the voters. Previously, that is how the St. Cloud Regional Public Library was funded, as well as major expansion at the St. Cloud Regional Airport. Once the major regional project is funded, the rest of the sales-tax money is divided up among the participating cities, according to a formula partly based on population. The revenue comes from the extra half-cent added to a sale every time someone buys something taxable in any of those six cities.
Those cities can then use the money for their own projects, as long as such projects have a more or less “regional” aspect, such as roads traveled by people from outside the city or parks that can be used by anybody from anywhere.
Sartell City Administrator Mary Degiovanni said Sartell residents will have more chances to give their input on sales-tax projects, through social media, public meetings and surveys. Area cities, she said, are hoping they can hold referendums earlier than later, preferably this year, so planning can be started well ahead of 2018. It’s important, she said, to know what voters want and what they will approve in the referendum elections.
In the 10 years of half-cent sales-tax revenue, Sartell has received almost $7 million, Degiovanni noted.
So far, Sartell has used sales-tax money to help fund the following projects: the Bernick’s Ice Arena, a series of trails, an outdoor skating shelter and ice rink, improvements in Champion Field and Val Smith Park, the purchase of Rotary Riverside parkland, the purchase of golf-course land for Pinecone Central Park (more than $3 million), improvements to Pinecone Central Park and improvements made to roads in the city’s southwest section where the medical campus is located.
Sales-tax funds in Sartell have also been dedicated to a community-resource facility and for park improvements – about $1.6 million for the facility and about $800,000 for parks. Those revenues are not yet in the city coffers. Those amounts are based on what is estimated to come to the city in sales-tax revenue from now until 2018, Degiovanni noted.
Degiovanni noted if a particular city’s voters do not approve extension of the half-cent sales-tax revenue, that city will not receive any revenue from sales-tax distributions.