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Rochester council asked to confirm sales tax support

A legislative request to hold a local vote for the extension of Rochester's half-cent sales tax was approved last year, but a new vote will include the city's newest council member.

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ROCHESTER — A request to seek legislative approval for extending Rochester’s half-cent sales tax could get another vote Monday.

Rochester City Council Shaun Palmer sought a second vote on the request during the council’s Jan. 9 meeting in an effort to confirm the council’s support for extending the sales tax and the projects the extension will support.

“We have a new City Council member, so we basically have a new City Council,” he said. “I just want to verify we are in favor of the sales tax and the projects.”

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The tax request was unanimously approved in December, before council member Norman Wahl replaced Nick Campion.

The request calls for extending the existing tax to provide $65 million for a regional sports and recreation complex, $50 million for street reconstruction projects, $50 million for an economic vitality fund and $40 million for flood control and water quality projects.

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If approved by state lawmakers, the sales tax extension would head to a local ballot in the 2024 city general election, under current state regulations.

The current sales tax, which generates approximately $12 million a year, is expected to expire next year, after anticipated revenue approved in 2013 is collected.

The tax was initially put into place in 1983 and has remained in place with several renewals.

The city’s latest sales-tax request varies from the 2022 request, which sought $50 million to be dedicated to development of affordable housing.

Legislators changed the focus to economic development, which could include housing, during the review process, and added a requirement to create a $10 million regional fund, which would be available to all cities in the Rochester metropolitan area.

The change, which would include potential benefit for communities in Olmsted, Dodge, Fillmore and Wabasha counties, would have used a portion of the planned $50 million economic development fund or allowed the council to add $10 million to the $205 million request when it went to voters.

Palmer asked that council members also provide assurance that the proposed change would be acceptable.

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, a former state legislator, urged caution in specifically addressing the past legislation, which never received a final vote in the Minnesota House and Senate.

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“The current Legislature is somewhat different and will potentially have very different views on what should be in that legislation,” she said.

She said the city was neutral on potential changes last year and suggested the council keep similar doors open.

“There are some partisan and political issues at play regarding how that last bit went in,” she said of the call to share tax revenues with surrounding communities.

A city staff report sent to the council ahead of Monday’s meeting points out that Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, who is leading the Senate Taxes Committee this year, has said the committee will not be starting with the legislation negotiated last year, when Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, was chairwoman of the committee.

Nelson said Friday that starting over doesn't mean the work done in 2022 will be discarded.

"The good work was done can carry over," she said of the negotiations that got the 2022 tax bill close to a final vote before the Legislature adjourned.

City Administrator Alison Zelms pointed out that other changes are likely to be considered during the current legislative session, so city staff is working to ensure the best outcome.

“We are monitoring that all the time,” she said.

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Palmer said his hope is that a vote to support the tax extension is unanimous and sends a clear message to state lawmakers.

“I want this to be agreeable to everyone,” he said.

The potential vote will be part of the council’s 7 p.m. meeting Monday in council chambers of the city-county Government Center, 151 Fourth St. SE.



Upcoming meetings

Meetings scheduled to be held during the week of Jan. 23 include:

Rochester

  • City Council study session, 3:30 p.m. Monday In council chambers of the city-county Government Center, 151 Fourth St. SE. The meeting will livestream at www.rochestermn.gov/meetings/council-meetings and be available on Spectrum cable channel 180 or 188 and Metronet channel 80.
  • City Council, 7 p.m. Monday in council chambers of the Government Center. The meeting will livestream at www.rochestermn.gov/meetings/council-meetings and be available on Spectrum cable channel 180 or 188 and Metronet channel 80. The meeting will include the council convening as the city’s economic development authority.
  • Public Utility Board, 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Rochester Public Utilities community room, 4000 East River Road NE.
  • Heritage Preservation Commission, 6 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers of the Government Center, 151 Fourth St. SE.
  • Planning and Zoning Commission, 6 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers of the Government Center.

Olmsted County

  • Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments, noon Wednesday in conference room A at 2122 Campus Drive SE in Rochester.

Rochester Public Schools

  • School Board study session, 5 p.m. Tuesday in the boardroom of the Edison Building, 615 Seventh St. SW.
Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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