Ramsey County taxpayers want say in stadium debate

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 16, 2011 - 10:34 PM

The Ramsey County Charter Commission could address that issue at a special meeting set for Aug. 31.

The Ramsey County Charter Commission has scheduled a special meeting Aug. 31 to discuss sports-facilities related issues, a discussion driven by the Minnesota Vikings drive for a new stadium in Arden Hills.

The commission doesn't have any specific proposals on an agenda yet, but at least two people have ideas they want to pursue.

Andy Cilek, president of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, said he wants to require a countywide referendum before a sales tax increase is levied for a stadium. He argued that the county charter can supersede any special legislation approved for the Vikings.

Cilek wants the voters' voices heard on the tax issue. "I'm concerned they're going to move forward without letting the voters vote on it," he said Tuesday.

The Vikings and Ramsey County have the framework of a deal for a $1 billion stadium in Arden Hills at a former munitions site. The county's contribution of $350 million would be funded through a half-cent sales tax increase. The state also would be expected to contribute $300 million.

Whether a charter amendment would affect stadium efforts is questionable. When the Legislature approved the Target Field deal for the Twins, the law excluded the need for a Hennepin County referendum on the countywide 0.15 percent sales tax increase.

The Vikings are pushing for a special legislative session in October to approve a stadium plan. Gov. Mark Dayton has directed the Metropolitan Council and his Metropolitan Sports Facilities Chairman Ted Mondale to spend at least the next month studying the environmental and economic feasibility of the Arden Hills site.

Dayton has said he's open to calling the Legislature back, but that no doubt will hinge on the findings in the study.

Ramsey County resident Greg Copeland also has approached the board with a charter amendment to require a referendum before any taxes are levied or bonds are let for a professional sports stadium.

The proposals wouldn't go on this November's ballot. County elections director Joe Mansky said absentee ballot voting by law begins on Sept. 23 so the ballots must be set and printed in advance.

Traditionally, the Charter Commission holds hearings before approving amendments. The special meeting is not a public hearing.

Cilek said he wants to get his proposal on the 2012 ballot. He said the Minnesota Constitution would support his position that the charter could override state legislation.

But Phil Carruthers, head of the Ramsey County attorney's civil division, disagreed. "It's a really complicated issue; it would end up in the courts," Carruthers said.

Asked who is funding his organization, Cilek said, "It shouldn't be any of your concern, quite frankly, this is about the voters."

Rochelle Olson • 651-735-9749 Twitter: @rochelleolson

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