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DL council considering sales tax to fund new police department

A local option sales tax to raise funds for a new police department building? That's one of the goals that came out of a special strategic planning meeting of the Detroit Lakes City Council on Thursday.

The council has been considering implementation of a new local option sales tax since 2016 — in fact, special legislation for the tax was drawn up during the 2017 session of the Minnesota Legislature, but never introduced.

City Administrator Kelcey Klemm said Thursday that one of the things he learned while working with state legislators on the tax proposal this past year was that it would be best to get approval for the tax from local voters before seeking the legislation to implement it, rather than the other way around.

Another was that the focus of the proposal was, perhaps, a bit too broad: The city was seeking to raise between $35-$36 million to use on a variety of city infrastructure and facilities projects over the next 25 years.

"If we move ahead with a sales tax vote we need to have a clear picture of what we will build, and where we will build it," Klemm said.

One of the potential improvements listed in that initial sales tax proposal was replacement of the police department's aging and overcrowded facilities — and it was this project that the council decided to turn its focus toward on Thursday, as one of the city's most immediate needs.

"Could we do a new public works facility and police department in one building, and use the sales tax to pay for both?" asked Alderman Bruce Imholte. "Since the county isn't going to partner with us (on a joint public works facility), we have more land to use."

Alderman Ron Zeman also voiced his approval for a combined facility, but Klemm noted that the funding was already in place for a new public works building, and a couple of council members voiced their objection to locating the police department on the outskirts of the community (on Tower Road), rather than a central location as it has always enjoyed in the past.

When asked, Police Chief Steven Todd also said that, while a new facility would be appreciated wherever it was built, a centralized location would be preferable.

Mayor Matt Brenk stated that he would prefer to see a resolution authorizing a new local option sales tax proposal in front of the council sooner rather than later.

"The sooner the better," he said. "We need to go out to the folks in this community and sell it to them."

This is because the council is looking at having the question of a local option sales tax placed on the ballot for the November 2018 general election.

"The city has to adopt a resolution (calling for the sales tax vote) no later than the July council meeting for a general election vote this November," Klemm said.

After the council adopts this resolution, Brenk said, they can set some public hearings to receive input on a potential location for the new police department.

Also at Tuesday's special meeting, the council reviewed a preliminary draft of the final report on a West Lake Drive development study conducted by RDG Planning & Design this past fall. Design consultant Marty Shuckert presented the preliminary report early in Thursday's meeting; a final report is expected to be presented to the council in March.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 17 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