Sales Tax Extension Approved

The tax bill that includes the Shell Rock River Watershed District’s half-percent sales tax was passed by Gov. Mark Dayton late Tuesday — paving the way for the Fountain Lake dredging project.

With the approval of the bill, the sales tax will be extended for either 15 years or until $15 million has been collected. Funding collected goes toward water quality improvements, including the dredging project.

Lakes Foundation President Laura Cunningham said she was thankful the sales tax extension passed.

“It was really a community-led effort,” she said, noting the tax is essential for Fountain Lake dredging and for other future projects.

“The result is very much a blessing,” she said.

Cunningham thanked District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea; and District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, for their work at the Capitol in securing the extension.

“They were having conversations and making sure everyone understood the importance of this funding source,” she said.

The I Love Lakes campaign before November’s local vote on the sales tax extension resounded with local residents, Cunningham said, noting positive attitudes about cleaning local lakes.

“It kind of catches everyone,” she said.

The district’s board of managers will discuss budget and timeline information for the dredging project during a meeting that begins at 2 p.m. Friday at City Hall.

Administrator Brett Behnke said project bids will be released once permits are secured, which is expected this month. A contractor could start building the pipe that will transport sediment from the bottom of Fountain Lake to the site of the confined disposal site this year.

The board voted in April to move forward with the first phase of the dredging project, and began construction of the CDF — north of Interstate 90 and 1 1/2 miles north of Fountain Lake — in March.

“I am very happy to hear that the governor signed the tax bill,” Bennett said. “Among the many good tax relief provisions that will benefit our area greatly, this bill also contains legislative approval for the extension of the half-percent sales tax, which the people of Albert Lea overwhelmingly supported on last November’s ballot.

She said the dredging of Fountain Lake and other clean water initiatives are important to the people of the area.

“I am excited that the passage of this bill will allow those initiatives to move forward,” she said.

Sparks said passing the extension of the sales tax is “great news for Albert Lea and Freeborn County.”

“It will allow them to continue water-quality improvements to the region for years to come,” he said.

The tax bill passed, but not without a fair amount of discord between legislators.

Dayton signed most of a $46 billion budget but vetoed funding specifically for the state Legislature, a move that top Republicans said they would likely challenge in court as unconstitutional.

By signing most of the budget — including funding for state agencies, extra money to expand public preschool options and keep state parks open — but zeroing out funding for the Legislature itself, Dayton made clear he hoped to spare the pain of a government shutdown while forcing Republican legislative leaders back to the Capitol on his terms. He said he would only agree to a special session to restore House and Senate funding if lawmakers also reworked a $650 million tax bill to remove costly tax breaks for estates and several tobacco products, and reduce the scope of a cut to business property taxes. Lawmakers must remove a provision in a now-signed budget bill that would explicitly ban his administration from expanding driver’s license access to immigrants living in the state illegally and should retool changes to how teachers are licensed, he said.

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