Locals debate county sales tax for roads

Staff Writer

There is mixed reaction to the idea of a half-cent sales tax in Morrison County to cover a $10 million shortfall for road and bridge repair over the next 10 years.

Between all other sources of revenue for road repair, from state and federal funding to the local levy and wheelage tax, Morrison County has around $35 million in the budget over the next 10 years, while the plan would cost about $45 million.

The tax would be in effect for 10 years, or until the county completes all projects on its five-year plan, which could take longer than five years, whichever comes first, County Engineer Steve Backowski said.

To extend the tax past that point, the Board would need to begin the process all over again and hold a new public hearing.

Many of the residents who spoke at a public hearing Wednesday, had problems with the idea, either arguing it would hurt businesses and people on fixed incomes, or that the county should have set money aside for this in years prior.

“I thought over the years we should have been levying for some of these projects,” Shirley Japp said.

Backowski said part of the consideration the Board has had is that with this plan, people who use the roads and buy things in Morrison County would also pay for the projects in this plan. Without it the only way to raise the money is to raise the levy or bond for the money, both of which affect local property owners.

Commissioner Mike Wilson said that while the county tries to save money for projects like these, the money coming in is spent on whatever projects need to be done that year.

“We’ll always spend what we have, because there are always roads to fix,” Wilson said.

Greg Smith said while the sales tax would be the same or less than those applied in neighboring communities like Brainerd and St. Cloud, products are cheaper there than in Morrison County.

“You’re paying a higher sales tax there and you don’t recognize it because you’re saving a walloping amount of money,” Smith said. “We don’t have the options those big cities do.”

He also said that there would be a big impact with this small change to residents on fixed income.

Tom Girtz said he was in support of the sales tax, as it is a fair option and repairing the bridges and roads is a safety issue.

“From June to September, there are over 100 events put on in Morrison County,” Girtz said. “We need to make sure our roads are safe and reliable.”

Having good roads saves drivers money in less maintenance and fuel for their vehicles, Girtz said.

Commissioner Jeffrey Jelinski said he received a comment from John Roufs, owner of Vacuum Cleaner Outlet and Service Center in Little Falls.

Roufs told Jelinski while he isn’t against the sales tax, he is against having to administer it to his customers and feels it is one more reason they may choose to buy from businesses on the Internet.

Until the playing field is equal between all Internet sites and local businesses, the sales tax is a disadvantage to local businesses, Roufs said.

County Administrator Deb Gruber said Larry Sanders and Little Falls Township both submitted verbal comments voicing their support for the sales tax.

The Board will vote on the tax Tuesday, July 25. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the Board Room at the Morrison County Government Center.