Watershed Board Approves Sales Tax Request

The Shell Rock River Watershed District board of managers Tuesday morning unanimously approved requesting an extension to its half-cent local-option sales tax. Approval came during its meeting at City Hall. The district’s request is an extension of the current sales tax to last either 15 years or until $15 million has been collected. The sales tax would be required to be spent on water quality improvements set forth in the Watershed District’s watershed management plan. Final ballot language will be set by the city of Albert Lea. The city also needs to hold a public vote and gain state approval before the sales tax is renewed. The Albert Lea City Council and Shell Rock River Watershed District will hold a concurrent session at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at City Hall. The City Council will also hold a public forum on the sales tax at 7 p.m. Feb. 22. According to the Watershed District, the City Council is planning on voting on a resolution of support for renewal of the sales tax March 7. The sales tax renewal could be on November’s ballot, but the request could also go the Legislature in 2017 and be put on the ballot in late summer to fall 2017. Watershed District board Secretary Al Bakken said the extension is critical to the dredging of Fountain Lake, a project he said will result in greater water quality and a better environment for habitat. He mentioned the projects the Watershed District has completed in the last 10 years as evidence of the district’s success. President of Albert Lea Lakes Foundation Laura Lunde said approval was the first step in the district’s journey of renewing its half-cent sales tax. “It’s exciting; this is a big step,” Lunde said. She said the district’s list of projects are critical to meeting the community’s expectations of healthy lakes and water quality. Lunde said Albert Lea has a unique identity in the region and has demonstrated a commitment to preserving and caring for its waters. A public hearing was held at Monday night’s Albert Lea City Council meeting in regard to the extension. A little more than a half-dozen district residents spoke. Watershed board Chairman Gary Pestorius expressed excitement about the past and the future of the Watershed District in a press release. “This is a crucial first step that will ensure that the Shell Rock River Watershed has the funds needed to continue its water quality efforts,” Pestorius said. “There’s been incredible work done over the last 10 years, and with the approval of our second-generation water plan, we’re looking forward to continuing that good work into the future.” Through funding from the sales tax, the Watershed District has leveraged more than $25 million from outside funds for projects to improve water quality and clarity in the lakes of Albert Lea, including the ongoing Fountain Lake restoration, completion of the Albert Lea Lake dam and fish barrier and the South Industrial Park stormwater retention project, according to district officials. Other district projects have included significant stream bank stabilization projects, upgrading nearly 700 failing septic systems and managing rough fish in upstream lakes and streams. The Watershed District will hold its annual meeting March 10 at the Freeborn County courthouse. The Watershed District was established in 2003 and encompasses 246 square miles within Freeborn County.
© 2015 Shell Rock River Watershed District, 305 S 1st Avenue, Albert Lea, MN 56007