By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
A half percent sales tax increase in Little Falls could raise as much as $2.888 million over a six-year period.
That money could be used to help pay for the Camp Ripley State Veterans Trail (CRSVT) through Little Falls and the recreation complex. The first phase begins with a splash pad, skate park and a playground.
Paul Twitchell and his wife, Emily Siles-Twitchell, want to donate $100,000 toward a playground, to be erected in memory of their baby, Taylor Chebet. However, that money can’t be left idle for a long time.
But fundraising for the splash pad, skate park has been sparse, with grant funding available when plans have been drawn up, making it difficult to implement the first phase of the project, which includes the playground.
In September, the Council approved city staff help the Mayor’s Youth Task Force in putting together a design for the playground, which will help in applying for grants.
Adam Fjeld, a member of the Youth Task Force, told the Council that the first step in implementing a local option sales tax was to get its approval to put the question regarding such a tax to the voters on the November 2014 general election ballot.
To do that, the Council would need to pass a resolution proposing the tax, stating the proposed tax rate; amount of revenue to be raised, its intended uses and the anticipated date that the tax will expire.
Should the Council pass such a resolution, the question will be put on the November 2014 ballot and voters will decide whether they want a local option sales tax. The resolution must be passed by the Council at least 90 days before the election. The Council may not spend money to advertise or promote the tax.
If voters approve implementation of the sales tax, Ken Swecker who works with Sen. Paul Gazelka, said it will be brought before the state legislature in the form of a bill during the legislature’s spring session in 2015.
If the legislature approves the bill, the Council must pass an ordinance imposing the tax and notify the Commissioner of Revenue at least 90 days before the first day of the calendar quarter on which the tax is to be imposed — which at the earliest, may be fall 2015.
Once money is generated from the tax, and the city receives it from the state, Fjeld said the Park, Recreation and Tree Board could decide where it would be used, based on recommendations from the Recreation Complex Committee and the community.
Bob Reinitz, a long-time supporter of the CRVST, said he sees the sales tax as a way to help construct infrastructure for the trail. Although the Department of Natural Resources allocated $50,000 toward the CRVST, bonding from the legislature fell through. Reinitz said he felt confident it would pass the next time around.
“I’d love to see the city be proactive rather than reactive,” he said.
Reinitz described himself as a “conservative” who wouldn’t normally appreciate a tax. “But the sales tax stays here. We want to keep the sales tax here,” he said.
Council Member At Large Brian-Paul Crowder asked how much of the tax would go toward the trail and how much toward the complex, saying that taxpayers needed to know what they were supporting.
Council Member Greg Zylka called himself a “numbers guy” and asked whether the $2.888 million over six years would be enough money to construct the recreation complex.
Dustin Simmonds, a member of the Youth Task Force, said St. Cloud paid $500,000 for its 12,000 square foot park, with $100,000 of that for colored concrete.
“My biggest concern is when we talk $2.888 million, is that we have absolutely no numbers other than a very expensive skate park for $400,000,” Zylka said. “No numbers on operations, maintenance or any of these things. Where do you start with this?”
Although Zylka said he thinks the projects would be great for the community, he is concerned that if the projected $2.888 million isn’t enough to complete all of the projects in six years, a new council, a new legislature, and the voters may not choose to continue.
“We promise the voters we’ll get these four things,” said Zylka. “But realistically can’t make that promise.”
In September, the Council approved an agreement with Greg Kimman of Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc. for $1,000 paid by the Youth Task Force, to figure cost estimates, project phasing and rendering of the complex. Monday, at the 4 p.m. Park, Recreation and Tree Board meeting at City Hall, Kimman will show preliminary renderings and cost estimates.
The current Minnesota sales tax is 6.875 percent. If the .5 percent local option sales tax is implemented, sales tax on anything taxable in Little Falls will be 7.375 percent, except in a few situations.
Since Little Falls already had a 3 percent tax on lodging in the city, that tax will increase to 10.375 percent. The city also has a .5 percent tax on food purchased in restaurants, that will increase to 7.875 percent, should this local option sales tax be approved.
Fjeld put his presentation to the Council online. Those who wish to view it can visit: http://prezi.com/olwczwiuv9aa/local-option-sales-tax.