By John Holler
For the last several months, Wright County has dealt with the likely necessity to impose a local option sales tax for road projects due to a significant decrease in road and bridge funding from the State of Minnesota.
Following a public hearing May 4 that lasted almost three hours, it seemed as though passage in some form or another was inevitable since enough commissioners had spoken favorably of the proposal to have the needed votes to pass it.
However, shortly before the matter was expected to come to a vote, Commissioner Mark Daleiden asked that the matter be tabled until the June 13 meeting, much to the dismay of Commissioner Mike Potter – who didn’t see the motion coming and has grown tired of board agenda items consistently being tabled or postponed.
“When it’s 1st-and-10, you don’t punt,” Potter said. “Putting it off won’t make any difference. This board finds ways to table things all the time. It will be the same situation on June 13 as it is now. Nothing is going to change. The Legislature has already done its budget conference and they’re talking to the governor right now. There’s no new money that’s going to be added. Nothing will change and we’re just delaying the inevitable.”
When the item came up on the agenda, County Coordinator Lee Kelly opened the discussion matter-of-factly, saying that the only potential sticking points on the approval would be whether to set the local option sales tax at .25 percent or .5 percent and the term under which the tax would be approved for.
“As you recall, we had a public hearing last week to get input from the public on this local option sales tax,” Kelly said. “Coming out of that meeting, there was a clear direction on how we wanted to proceed and I wanted to keep that topic moving. I put in your packet for the sake of discussion – kind of a fill-in-the-blank manner, if you want to all it – not dictating the tax rate to set or the term unspecified as those were two variables discussed at the meeting as well.”
Discussion ensued in which the only commissioner who appeared to have a problem with moving for with the tax was Board Chair Charlie Borrell, who wanted a commensurate cut to be made in the highway department budget once the tax kicked in.
Daleiden said that there are metrics available for the four largest cities in the county that could set a baseline for how much of an impact the local option sales tax would have on local businesses.
Daleiden then asked that the item be tabled until after the current state legislative session ends.
The first available date was June 13, more than a month away.
The motion passed 4-1 with Potter casting the dissenting vote to table the matter.
“I just don’t get it,” Potter said. “We’ve vetted this out. We held a public hearing in which we addressed all the concerns that residents had and explained why we have to do this to keep our roads from falling apart. I thought we had the votes – I still think we have to votes to pass it – but yet another item before this board gets tabled and kicked down the road. It’s like we move the ball down the field, get 1st-and-goal and then punt.”
If and when the matter is passed, it would take effect until July 1. Tax is collected quarterly and the second quarter of the year won’t end until June 30, at which point the new tax can begin taking effect in Wright County.
In other items on the May 9 agenda, the board:
* Received the annual report from the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust, which provides insurance coverage to Wright County and almost all counties in the state. The board heard a presentation outlying the areas of coverage and the insurance usage/experience rates in those areas.
* Approved a revised joint powers agreement with the Minnesota Counties Computer Cooperative. Assistant County Attorney Brian Asleson said the revisions were primarily language changes and weren’t significant in any changes to the previous joint powers agreement that was put into place in 2016.
* Adopted a resolution to enter into a grant contract with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs for an operations enhancement grant program for Fiscal Year 2017. This year the grant, in the amount of $15,000 will be paid out initially by the county and the state will reimburse the county upon receipt of a billing notice. It is expected that next year’s grant will be paid out in advance by the state if the 2017 process goes smoothly.
* Authorized signatures on the county’s 2016 Feedlot & Performance Credit Report. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency requires board review of the annual reports for the feedlot program. The report that was signed at the April 4 board meeting with missing the performance credit report.
* Authorized signatures on a construction management agreement with Contegrity Group of Little Falls for the construction of the new courts facility on the outskirts of Buffalo adjacent to the Law Enforcement Center.
* Laid over for one week bids received for the roof replacement of the Public Works Building, which was damaged by a storm in March. The bids were laid over because the verbiage in the four bids were different – some adding in project alternate deducts as part of their base bids, while others included the deducts after the base bids. A recommendation will be brought to the board as part of its May 16 agenda.
* Accepted the minutes of the May 2 committee of the whole meeting. The meeting was convened to discuss a recent dispute about the reorganization of the sheriff’s department that result in the positions held by two longtime county employees being eliminated. The board approved a recommendation that all future department reorganizations that result in a job elimination that negatively impacts existing staff through layoff or demotion be referred to the personnel committee of the whole before any decisions are made.