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Rural residents to vote on swimming pool tax

By Jeffrey Pieters

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

Rural voters in Olmsted County soon will have their say on the county’s proposed $15 pool tax.

A petition drive succeeded in forcing a recall election. County commissioners voted this morning to set Dec. 4 as the election date.

"There’s been enough flak on this thing — for and against — that we need to operate as transparently as possible," said Jim Bier, chairman of the board.

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To force the recall, petitioners needed to collect 760 signatures. That’s 5 percent of the 15,215 qualified voters living in the rural areas that would be subject to the county’s proposed special tax.

Two separate petitions were submitted on Wednesday. One had 935 valid signatures and one had 676.

The petitions together had about 2,000 signatures at the time they were submitted, said two drive organizers, Paul Mittlestadt and Jay Lampland. County officials invalidated about 20 percent of the names.

Opposition to the pool tax seemed strong, Mittlestadt said.

"I’m saying 97 percent support (for the petition)," he said. "It was the easiest thing in the world."

The tax would charge rural property owners $15 per household, and $30 for certain farmsteads. The money would be placed in a fund that cities in Olmsted County could draw upon to build swimming pools.

Commissioner Matt Flynn developed the program as a means to spark life in several of Olmsted County’s small towns, and he promoted it for about two years before the board approved it on Aug. 28.

The recall effort began soon afterward. According to Lampland, opposition stems from residents’ objection to higher taxes, and also a sense — despite Flynn’s efforts — that the tax passed "under the radar."

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Opponents asked the county board two weeks ago to reverse its vote in order to avoid the $20,000 cost of running a special election. Commissioners said they’d rather let the legal process run its course.

Dec. 4 was selected as the election date in order to give elections officials enough time to prepare the ballot question, get ballots ready, and allow a legally-required 30 days for absentee voting.

"I don’t want people thinking we’re trying to ram this through, one way or the other," Bier said. "People think there’s enough shenanigans out there on both sides — which there’s not."

To learn more, go to Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

Olmsted County http://www.co.olmsted.mn.us/

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