Sales Tax Moves Ahead to Ballot

The Albert Lea City Council Monday night approved final legislative language for the Shell Rock River Watershed District’s request for a half-percent sales tax extension.

The language requires Watershed District officials to attend meetings biannually in front of the council to report activities, expenditures and revenue uses.

The Watershed District’s request is to extend the sales tax for either 15 years or until $15 million has been collected. The money goes toward water quality improvements.

State approval must still be secured.

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said extension of the sales tax will come before the public in November 2016 before being approved by the Legislature in 2017.

Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said city officials have never disagreed with the need to extend the sales tax, noting he is looking forward to the two boards having a more proactive role with each other.

Watershed District Administrator Brett Behnke said he is relieved to see the sales tax move forward, noting it is critical for the two boards to work together on water quality projects.

“I really like the statement of mutual accountability and communication,” Behnke said. “The watershed and the city have now publicly stated their intent to work together, and that says a lot to our community.”

He said the Watershed District will next showcase its projects and work being done to the state Legislature.

Lakes Foundation President Laura Lunde said she has anticipated council approval, but noted it will be expensive to campaign for the extension before November.

Lakes Foundation and Watershed District officials have told Adams they wanted the ballot measure to come in November 2017 in a special election to give them more time to educate the public on Watershed District operations and to give the district time to react if the Legislature changes legislative language.

Lunde said it has been a tough process so far.

“It’s been an uphill climb,” she said.

She said there has been a lot of discussion, dialogue, ideas and planning done, but she noted now the real work begins to ensure the sales tax is renewed.

The council also approved a separate agreement with the Watershed District for consideration by the watershed board. Terms of the agreement include the Watershed District seeking input from the City Council on district projects within city limits; the city having a staff member appointed to the Shell Rock River Watershed District Citizen Advisory Board; and city officials biannually presenting city efforts to clean area lakes to the Shell Rock River Watershed Board of Managers.

Other terms include city officials being provided a one-year notice by the Watershed District when city funds are requested for a project partnership that exceeds $100,000 and vice versa; the Watershed District Board of Managers broadcasting its meetings on cable television; and Watershed District officials providing the city with at least one week of notice of a change in meeting dates.

Third Ward Councilor George Marin thanked everyone who participated in the process, including the Watershed District officials, noting committing $15 million or 15 years is significant.

He said he wants the council to be accountable to taxpayers.

“I feel very good about this,” he said.

Local resident Gary Hagen said in a public forum the request should go on November’s ballot, noting the extension needs to be passed because it is a better way to clean up area lakes than increasing property taxes.

Wanda Wangsness said without the half-percent sales tax, Fountain Lake will not be dredged.

Wangsness, who lives on Dane Bay, said she supports extending the sales tax to keep Dane Bay from being ruined.

 

© 2015 Shell Rock River Watershed District, 305 S 1st Avenue, Albert Lea, MN 56007