Residents and visitors in Scott County could soon pay higher sales taxes.
The County Board is weighing up to a half-cent retail sales tax to fund transportation projects. State legislation from 2013 gives counties that option if they're not part of the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), which collects a quarter-cent sales tax.
The county has been considering the tax for about two years and has put together a list of projects it will tackle if the tax is enacted. Once the projects are completed, the tax will sunset — though that could be decades from now.
After considering a wide range of road projects across the county, staff members have settled on a recommended list of 13 projects. Improvements would happen primarily on Highways 13 and 169 in and around Shakopee, Savage and Prior Lake.
"These in the region, because of data, come to the top," Deputy County Administrator Lezlie Vermillion said at a March 17 board work session.
The list isn't set in stone, though. Projects were chosen based on a set of criteria that boil down to fixing congestion and safety issues on the county's major arteries. But an economic development opportunity that requires a road fix could come up, or other funding sources could fail to come through.
Action from the state and federal government could also alter the timeline.
"The real driver on this list is when others can come to the table," County Administrator Gary Shelton said at the work session.
The sales tax already generates about $6 million annually in other counties. The revenue it would produce in Scott County hasn't yet been calculated.
Concerns about the taxpayers
Though the County Board is likely to sign off on the new tax, some commissioners are wondering what the taxpayers will say.
It has taken two years to get to this point in part because of an extensive public input process, Shelton said. Comments from a public hearing a year ago were mostly positive, although some said they would only support the tax if it would bring tangible improvements to the county's transit operations.
Commissioner Tom Wolf said at the work session that he's been supportive of the tax, but the list of projects raised a red flag. Much of his territory is in the southern part of the county, which at this point is mostly devoid of potential projects.
Vermillion said smaller road projects in that part of the county will still get funding, just not through this tax. And residents there will also benefit from the larger projects.
"We can't get you to your township if those roads don't operate safely," she said.
At the request of the board, there will be additional information for the public at an April 7 meeting. The board will likely vote on the new tax April 21.
Local businesses on board
Scott County residents aren't the only ones who would be affected by the new tax. Visitors to attractions such as Mystic Lake Casino, Canterbury Park, Valleyfair and the Renaissance Festival will contribute to the county's transportation system, too.
Commissioner Mike Beard said at the work session that he's talked to business owners interested in the tax and the improvements it could bring.
Mystic Lake has its own bus service between Shakopee and the Twin Cities, but other businesses are less accessible to employees and patrons from other parts of the metro. Canterbury Park has a shuttle running back and forth from Mystic Lake, but there are few options beyond that, especially for employees.
"I have to think that it's a concern for everybody," Canterbury spokesman Jeff Maday said. "I would think that most businesses would want to pay their fair share to improve transit."