A set of central Minnesota bike trails would be linked if a plan funded by a half-cent sales tax gets the go-ahead from six city councils and, in November, voters.
Leaders of six St. Cloud-area cities have settled on a trio of regional projects to be partly paid for by local sales tax dollars. The biggest: $10 million over 20 years to build trail connections between the cities and the Lake Wobegon Trail.
In the past, the additional sales tax has funded improvements to the St. Cloud Regional Airport and, later, the St. Cloud Public Library. But this time, the cities could put a package of three regional projects on the ballot.
“You’ve got six different cities that have six different councils and mayors,” said Shaunna Johnson, city administrator of Waite Park, one of the six. “It can be a challenge to get that many people around one topic. These are the three that have resonated to the top.”
In addition to the trails, $4 million would go toward a community and aquatics center in St. Cloud and $4 million to projects at the airport.
The remaining $273 million expected to be raised by the half-cent sales tax over 20 years would fund roads and other projects within the six cities: Sartell, Sauk Rapids, St. Joseph and St. Augusta, besides St. Cloud and Waite Park. The city councils will vote on the slate this summer. Voters could then decide Nov. 4 whether to extend the sales tax.
Out on his bike, Cliff Borgerding, president of the Lake Wobegon Trails Association, often stops to talk with other riders on the 46-mile route from St. Joseph to Osakis. “One of the main questions that I get is, ‘When is it going to link into St. Cloud?’ ” he said.
St. Cloud residents want to be able to hop on without having to pack their bikes and drive several miles to the St. Joseph trailhead. Folks in the smaller cities near St. Cloud want to be able to bike there to work, shop and eat, Borgerding said. They can bike on the roads, he added, but trails would offer a safer option.
Because the trails project “touches each individual community,” it was a hit with city leaders, Waite Park’s Johnson said.
A survey released last week showed that residents like trails, too. About 67 percent of 577 residents from the six cities said they agree or somewhat agree with using the money for the trail system. The airport and the aquatic center nabbed a similar, but slightly lower, share. About 47 percent of respondents said they’d support extending the half-cent sales tax for two decades, while 32 percent said they’d oppose that. The rest were unsure.
But when a random, smaller group was surveyed, the plan was a tougher sell: About 39 percent said they would vote for the tax, while 38 percent said they would not.
Planning for the aquatic center in St. Cloud’s Whitney Park is already underway. City residents approved $10 million in sales tax dollars for the $27.3 million center, which will be run by the St. Cloud Area YMCA.
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said he believes the aquatics center and the airport are best suited for sales tax dollars. “There are other avenues” to fund trail systems, he said, including bonding and funds from the state’s Legacy Amendment.
But other cities strongly advocated for the trails, Kleis said, and “we were trying to reach a balance between what all the cities wished to have as a ballot question.”