Proposed sales tax to be on November ballot in West St. Paul

Residents have the chance to vote on a potential new sales tax this November after the West St. Paul City Council put the question on the ballot July 23.

City Manager Ryan Schroeder said at the July 23 council meeting that the question is for a sales and use tax that would finance road improvements.

It will appear on the ballot as, “Shall the City of West St. Paul, Minnesota, be authorized to impose a sales and use tax of one-half of one percent (0.5%) to finance street projects identified in the City’s Pavement Management Plan?”

The tax could generate an estimated $1.4 million each year.

Schroeder said if voters authorize the new tax, it would go to the Legislature, which would need to give it the OK.

“The Legislature does not automatically approve these things,” he said.

Ultimately, if both voters and the Legislature approve the tax, it would come back before the council to adopt as an ordinance. The earliest the tax could legally start would be Oct. 1, 2019. 

 

Alternative to raising property taxes

Schroeder said there were discussions of the tax as a 2020 revenue source, an alternative to property taxes that could support things like park and trail plans, though the resolution passed by the council was specific in the tax supporting streets projects.

He said the Robert Street project is set to cost the city more than $27 million in the end, making it difficult for the city to do other maintenance work on other streets.

The council looked for ways to recover from the position, including seeking money from the Legislature.

If the new sales tax is passed and put into place, 30 percent of future improvements would be paid for through property taxes, instead of the current 50 percent. 

Schroeder argued the tax is better math for the public — otherwise property taxes would continue to increase to cover street improvements.

If the tax is put in place, Schroeder said, the people who benefit from the improvements to Robert Street will pay a bit for them directly through purchases at Robert Street businesses. These are people from both inside and outside of the community who frequent the thoroughfare.

Council member Dave Napier said he supports the tax because of the costs of the Robert Street improvements and because those costs had fallen to West St. Paul taxpayers, despite the city’s efforts to get state money.

“With this, we are spreading the burden a little bit further to the users of Robert Street,” he said. 

Council member John Bellows said that often a tax proposal is to increase spending, though in this instance, that’s not the case. He said there are known costs in the future and the council is trying to find ways to meet those costs that go beyond increasing property taxes.

“Nobody wants to vote to increase taxes,” he said.

The question will be on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 6.

 

— Hannah Burlingame

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