Wabasha asks lawmakers to OK 1% sales tax
ST. PAUL — Wabasha city officials want lawmakers to give them the authority to raise up to $4.5 million through a sales tax to help pay for key infrastructure upgrades.
City officials are asking lawmakers to allow the city to impose a 1-percent sales and use tax. The proposal still would need the approval of Wabasha voters. It would expire after 20 years or when the $4.5 million total is reached.
Wabasha City Administrator Chad Springer told members of a Senate tax committee on Wednesday that the city is the oldest town in Minnesota, having been established in 1830.
"We have very aging infrastructure. Some of our sewer lines are as old as 100 years old, and we're spending large sums of money for upkeep," he said.
In addition, tourism has become the city's largest industry since the National Eagle Center was built 10 years ago. On average, 75,000 people per year come to the river town of 2,500.
Wabasha Mayor Rollin Hall said that in 2012 voters were asked if they would support a sales tax to pay for capital improvements to city streets, utilities and municipal buildings. The measure was approved by a vote of 790 to 630.
Committee chairwoman Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, noted a companion bill has not been authored in the House and said if one were to be introduced "that strengthens your case."
Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, is authoring the senate bill . He told Rest he is working to get the bill introduced on the House side. Red Wing Republican Rep. Tim Kelly, whose district includes Wabasha, said he is willing to consider authoring the bill as long as it is up to voters to decide whether the tax moves ahead.
No vote was taken on Schmit's bill. It was laid over for possible inclusion in a larger tax bill.
During the hearing, Schmit said Wabasha's pursuit of a sales tax comes as the region is bracing for massive economic growth related to Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center project.
"The city is trying to think creatively about not only keeping up with its existing necessary infrastructure but also positioning itself well for renewed economic growth moving forward and taking advantage of that large investment being made in the Destination Medical Center concept."