St. Paul asks for new sales tax

Tax would be used for street and park projects


St. Paul’s proposed sales tax could be directed to several West Midway streets that are in need of repair. But the tax, which is pending action from the 2023 Minnesota Legislature, has a long road ahead.
The sales tax would be used for city Public Works and Parks and Recreation projects.
Getting legislative approval for a tax is one step. State lawmakers are eying a record number of city and county local option sale tax asks, including St. Paul’s request for a one percent sales tax increase. The League of Minnesota Cities (LMC) has indicated that 38 requests were made prior to the Jan. 31 deadline.
Why so many requests? Some are holdovers from the 2022 session, when no local option sales taxes were passed.
If the tax gets the go-ahead from legislators, it then would go to St. Paul voters in November.
The proposed sales tax has definite pros and cons. If approved, it is expected to generate an estimated $984 million in revenue over 20 years. That’s a lot of money for infrastructure. But it would also put St. Paul’s sale tax among the highest in Minnesota.
It would give St. Paul two unique sales taxes. The first was adopted by state lawmakers in 1993.
The Sales Tax Revitalization (STAR) program began in 1994. It continues to provide funding for the RiverCentre and neighborhood and cultural projects, and city budget needs.
But city leaders face many differences between 1992 and 2023. The 1993 effort passed despite a split city council. The 2023 proposal has clear majority support.
The 1993 tax didn’t have to go before the voters. A petition drive to put the measure on the ballot fell short. The 2023 proposal requires a referendum.
And while the 1993 tax has funded a diverse group of projects, sales tax request that go to the capitol today must have specific projects attached.
Business groups haven’t come out with strong positions for or against the tax. Midway Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Chad Kulas said that group will hear from Public Works Director Sean Kershaw this month.
Midway has been in an educational mode, with participation in a survey led by the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and other groups.
Department directors Kershaw and Andy Rodriguez of Parks and Recreation have been reviewing the proposal with two city commissions, Transportation and Parks and Recreation.
“The mayor decided that this year was the year we needed to try again” for the tax, said Kershaw, factoring in DFL control of the House and Senate and a DFL governor.
The needs cannot be placed on Local Government Aid or on property taxpayers, the department heads said. They note that parks and public works facilities here have regional significance so that should be spread out regionally.
Submitting a local sales tax request means having a detailed list of potential projects under state procedure changes adopted in 2019, Kershaw and Rodriguez said. Not surprisingly, city officials have heard questions about why other requests weren’t included.
For Public Works, street projects were chosen with several criteria in mind. Streets with current or proposed regional transitways, safety issues, major regional freight corridors, and bike facilities are among the streets eyed. “We could have picked any arterial or collector street because almost all of them need work,” said Kershaw.
The estimate of needs for Public Works alone is at $750 million in today’s dollars. “Arterial streets right now are on a 124-year replacement cycle,” said Kershaw. Residential streets have a 289-year replacement cycle. The industry standard is a 60-year maximum design life.
“And we’re going to see the worst pothole season we’ve ever seen,” Kershaw added.
Two dozen street projects are outlined in the Public Works proposal, including the controversial reconstruction of Summit Avenue between Mississippi River Boulevard to Kellogg Boulevard. Several projects are in the West Midway area, where streets regularly take a beating from heavy truck traffic. Area projects include Hamline Avenue from Pierce Butler Route to Randolph Avenue; Cretin Avenue from Interstate 94 to Ford Parkway; Pelham Boulevard from Franklin Avenue to Mississippi River Boulevard; Vandalia Street from Interstate 94 to Capp Road; Territorial Road from Vandalia to Cromwell Avenue; Transfer Road from Prior Avenue to Ellis Avenue and Ellis and Vandalia; and Marshall Avenue between Lexington Parkway and Western Avenue.
For Parks and Recreation “our biggest need is capital maintenance,” said Rodriguez. His department has 39 community recreation center buildings, with an average building age of more than 40 years.
The city only has $2.5 million in capital maintenance dollars each year through the Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget process. The department has a backlog of about $40 million in parks and recreation maintenance needs, Rodriguez said. As buildings continue to age, the costs rise.
Parks and Recreation fields more than 3,800 maintenance service request each year. Only about 75 percent of those are completed. The parks and recreation system receives an estimated 15 million visitors per year, with community center accounting for almost three million visits alone.
Several facilities are cited in the request, including downtown parks, and the Mississippi River Learning Center and National Park Service headquarters at Crosby Farm Regional Park/Watergate Marina. Another idea on the list is a multi-sport/multi-use regional athletic center. The latter facility doesn’t have a designated site, said Rodriguez.


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