by Jim Boyle
As Wright County considers adding a local option sales tax to fund county road improvements (read story here), the Star News inquired recently and again this past week whether Sherburne County has given the funding tool any thought.
“We have not had conversation around this particular issue yet but look forward to discussing it with the County Board over the next six months,” County Administrator Steve Taylor said.
Taylor said in an email to the Star News before the county has any such talks, he and his staff would like to evaluate its county road system needs and any funding gaps that may exist.
This will be accomplished, he said, by way of its long-term transportation plan update. Currently the plan dates back to 2007 and is due for an update.
The county received four consultant proposals on May 5. The next step will be evaluating the proposals and selecting a consultant to proceed with the plan update.
The final product takes about a year to complete and is multifaceted with opportunities for public input, Taylor noted.
“A key part of the plan is to document the existing county road system and identify our transportation needs for the next 20 years,”
As part of the process the county will also identify funding sources for the projects and programs, and then it will have a handle on any funding gaps that may exist.
“This will provide the necessary base to determine priorities and how to address the funding needs,” Taylor said. “Although the final update will take about a year, we anticipate having some preliminary results within about six months.”
Those preliminary results are expected to be a topic of conversations with the Sherburne County Board.
Otsego City Council paying close attention to counties
Otsego City Council members have been paying close attention to the deliberations going on in Buffalo, the county seat for Wright County that also includes the cities of St. Michael, Monticello and Otsego. They have expressed concern that tax revenue currently targeted for Otsego will actually make it to projects in the far eastern reaches of the county.
Council members were briefed on May 8 when Wright County Commissioner Mark Daleiden stopped by Otsego’s regular council meeting to get some feedback on the proposal they are considering to add a half percent sales tax to help pay for road improvements in Wright County.
When the Otsego governing body was first informed of this at a meeting on March 13, members were not the biggest fans of the idea. Daleiden said that’s why he wanted to pay them a visit.
Council Member Tom Darkenwald vocalized his opposition at that meeting, but he was not present during the meeting on May 8.
Mayor Jessica Stockamp has passed along council concerns to the Wright Board, although the council stopped short of drafting and adopting a resolution for or against.
The majority have been cautious in their remarks but seem to lean toward supporting this potential half percent sales tax because the money could be used to improve a lot of roads in Otsego.
Members, however, want to make sure the money would flow to this end of Wright County. They say they have been neglected in the past when other cities have gotten project funds.
“It’s not fun to vote for higher taxes or make that statement that you’re all in favor of that,” Council Member Vern Heidner said.
In addition to that, Heidner recalls a Northeast Wright County Transportation plan that was developed to get its Minnesota State Aid roads included so the county would get more funds. More money did flow to the Wright County, but Heidner says it got sent to the far southwest corner.
“That made us a little bit upset,” he said.
Funds from the proposed local option sales tax would be earmarked exclusively for road and bridge projects – of which there are several waiting in the wings.
The county has identified $78 million in projects that are on the shelf going out in the future that could be covered by this revenue stream if authorized. County officials estimate it would generate, conservatively, between $5 million to $6 million a year.
Of the $78 million in projects, four are in Otsego. There are others in nearby communities such as St. Michael and Albertville.
As of a couple of months ago, 26 counties had added the tax.
Three years ago when the state capped funding for counties to fund road projects, counties were legislatively given the option of raising their own funds.
Otsego officials are curious what Sherburne County will do. They do not want to lose business to a neighboring county.
Wright County decided on May 9 to make a decision after the Minnesota Legislature concludes its work this year to see what comes of the latest session.