Sales Tax Renewal Could be on November Ballot

The Albert Lea City Council expressed interest Monday night in renewing the Shell Rock River Watershed District’s half-percent sales tax and having the request on November’s election ballot.

The council instructed city staff to draft a resolution supporting the extension of the sales tax for either 15 years or until $15 million has been raised and for having the request on November’s ballot. They said they would like to increase transparency by having the city continue to work with the Watershed District in crafting a project list that is more specific than what is currently on the district’s project plan.

The council may have a first reading of the resolution at its next meeting on March 28.

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said the council formed its support from a council retreat and recent discussions.

Third Ward Councilor George Marin said the district has strayed from some of the original language of the sales tax and added that the city should play a larger role in the operations of the Watershed District.

Marin suggested last month that the city, Watershed District and Freeborn County increase collaboration by agreeing upon projects.

He said the city is not trying to micromanage or punish the Watershed District, but noted the council wants to add another layer of accountability for taxpayers.

“We need to do this together,” Marin said.

He said he would oppose any agreement not written down and noted he was interested in including the sales tax request on November’s ballot.

The city needs to set final ballot language, hold a public vote and gain state approval before the sales tax is renewed.

Sixth Ward Councilor Al “Minnow” Brooks said he supported keeping the ballot request at $15 million or 15 years, as well as having the vote be in November based on meetings he has attended with other local boards.

He said he supports a collaborative effort on projects between the Watershed District and the city.

The council and Watershed District held a session last month to discuss the sales tax renewal, and public forums have also been held.

Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said the City Council’s vote to renew the half-percent sales tax will be the biggest vote he has been a part of since becoming mayor. He said the vote will define the future of Albert Lea.

He said the two boards should continue to communicate to ensure the dredging of Fountain Lake, noting he wants the city to enter into more of a cooperative effort with the Watershed District.

Rasmussen stressed he wants the watershed board to be in charge of the Watershed District’s projects.

First Ward Councilor John Schulte V said he wants the city to have input in the list of projects the sales tax funds, and he wants the Watershed District to submit a priority list of projects the district wants the sales tax to fund before the city and Watershed District discusses them.

 

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