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Fairmont sales tax proposal hits obstacle

FAIRMONT — An additional half-cent local option sales tax intended to fund Fairmont’s street improvement program will be delayed.

Mark Sievert, interim city administrator, told the Fairmont City Council this week that the hurried process to get the proposal to the state Legislature for approval this session resulted in the submission of a vague proposition.

On Jan. 13, the council voted to submit a resolution for the sales tax to state lawmakers, but the process was rushed to meet the deadline to get the paperwork to the various committee chairs and, if all went well, have the measure on the local ballot in the November general election. Sievert has since been in contact with Fairmont’s legislative delegates as well as representatives from different committees and the League of Minnesota Cities.

“Having talked to a couple of different staff people in the House (of Representatives), they don’t like our resolution. Quite frankly, we put things together at the last minute, and we tried to be all encompassing on how we worded the resolution so we could fund streets,” Sievert told the council.

Cities seeking a local option sales tax must follow a process dictated by the Legislature. The local governing body must pass a resolution giving specific details about what the money will be used for and submit that resolution. If the Legislature approves the tax, the measure goes before the local voters for approval. If it achieves a majority vote, the tax proposal then goes to the City Council for final approval.

In November 2016, Fairmont voters approved a half-cent local option sales for recreational amenities that is generating about $600,000 per year. The council earmarked those funds for the proposed community center. The tax will be in effect for 25 years or until $15 million is collected.

The resolution submitted to the state last month listed five five-year street improvement plans, with each five-year plan as a separate project.

“The direction that has come down from the state is that you can request no more than five projects, but they’ve got to be very specific. They’ve got to be of regional significance,” Sievert said.

While it would not be difficult to specify streets leading to schools or medical facilities, the resolution that was submitted did not do this, and Sievert felt the lack of clarity could impair legislative approval.

“I think we might have to take a step back and really look at how we might put this together with a lot more detail,” he said. “When I do a little more research, it might make more sense to take a step back, as opposed to going to the Legislature and having them just cut it apart. I’d really hate to see them do that because that would be much more detrimental.”

But rewriting the resolution and starting the process over could delay local voter approval for up to two years, until the 2022 midterm election, unless a special election is called that would create an added expense for taxpayers.

Sievert plans to conduct additional research, meet with city management staff about specifying streets and writing a new resolution, and continue consulting with state representatives to see if other options are available.

“I think we want to be very careful about the process. We want to be very correct,” he said.

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