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DL council looks at engineer, sales tax

Though opinions were mixed about what they should do with regard to the city engineer's position, one thing Detroit Lakes City Council members did agree on Thursday was that a decision on the issue was paramount.

"We have a number of projects coming up, and we need to start planning for them now," said Mayor Matt Brenk, summing up the reasons why a decision on the city engineer will most likely top the agenda at the Feb. 12 City Council meeting.

Council members met with city staff for a lengthy planning session Thursday afternoon, at which they discussed priorities with regard to business development, public utilities, public works and annexation.

Items discussed included the Detroit Mountain Recreation Area, development of multi-use trails in and around Detroit Lakes, upgrades to the city's wastewater treatment facilities and the potential annexation of the WE Fest property into the city, as well as the possible annexation of Floyd Lake.

One relatively new idea that was discussed at length during the meeting was the possibility of implementing a local-option sales tax.

City Administrator Bob Louiseau and Finance Officer Pam Slifka presented an analysis of the proposed tax that included options for a .50, .625, .75 and 1 percent tax, as well as a possible division of sales tax revenues into four main areas: debt service (25 percent), assessment reductions on reconstruction projects (25 percent), facility and infrastructure improvements (40 percent), and maintenance of public spaces (10 percent).

Louiseau said the assessment reductions would specifically be targeted for infrastructure repair and replacement as opposed to new developments, which would still follow the traditional assessment process.

Council member Ron Zeman said he feels property tax relief in the form of assessment reductions is something that has been "long overdue."

"It really helps those on fixed incomes," he added, noting that a large assessment added to their property tax bill can force those on limited, fixed incomes to cut back on necessities like food and clothing.

Council member Bruce Imholte cautioned that they would need to be careful when deciding which facility and infrastructure improvement projects would be paid for with the new tax -- because using sales tax revenue to construct a new public works building, for instance, could cause some "blow back" (i.e., resistance from the public).

Louiseau also noted that he would like to see at least a small percentage of the revenue from this new tax be used to maintain the city's public spaces.

"I think it's important to be able to maintain what we build," he added.

"A couple of years ago, we looked at a local option sales tax," Brenk said, "but we couldn't get any of our legislators to sponsor it."

The difference this time is that the legislators have expressed at least some tentative support for the idea -- but the key is "to get everyone on the same page," he added. "The details are where we're going to run into a challenge."

Once the city has passed a resolution requesting legislation for a new tax, the existing local food and beverage tax should be phased out, Imholte noted.

Once legislation has been passed by the state in support of the proposed tax, the next step would be to put it to a public vote, Louiseau said.

But before that vote takes place, Zeman said, he would like to see several public hearings held in order to spell out the details of what the tax would be used for, in order to build public support for the tax.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454