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Fairmont looking for ways to pay for streets

The city of Fairmont has embarked upon a good mission: it is considering ways to move away from assessing property owners when the street in front of their home or business is improved. Such assessments can amount to thousands of dollars that are suddenly owed.

The worthy goal is to spread out the burden — because everyone uses the streets. This is especially true of main thoroughfares, as well as busy side streets. All the wear and tear is not caused by the people living on the street, as residents such as those along Fourth Street in Fairmont can attest. (The street was just repaired.)

While the city’s mission is heading in the right direction, it also faces hurdles. A big one is the state Legislature’s decision to put a moratorium on local option sales taxes. The City Council had wanted to pass a half-cent sales tax for streets, but the current state ban has nixed that plan. (We would note that the city does have a half-cent local sales tax, but it is committed to a community center.)

One measure the council will consider (on Aug. 10) is a franchise fee involving the city’s natural gas provider, Minnesota Energy. The firm would collect the fee from customers, then turn the money over to the city, which would use it on street work. The average residential customer would see a hike in their gas bill of $40 to $50 per year. It’s not a big amount, but as of today there is still no promise that street assessments will disappear, because the franchise fee will not come near raising the needed revenue.

So, it is clear that much more work must be done if the city is going to actually fulfill its mission. Officials continue to look for ways to broaden the base of those paying for street work. We hope citizens will weigh in and offer their thoughts. Those messages can be sent to City Hall or to council members.

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