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Two Harbors mayor takes sales tax request to Capitol

(Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Two Harbors Mayor Chris Swanson appealed to the Senate Tax Committee on Wednesday morning to garner support for the bill that modifies the local option sales tax from 0.5 percent to 1 percent. Senate Democratic leader Tom Bakk of Cook introduced the proposal to the committee, citing precedent from neighboring communities.

"It's what neighboring cities Proctor and Hermantown both do. And in Duluth, people pay more for sales tax. Then they move up the shore and pay less," Bakk said.

Swanson noted that the sales tax increase would provide some of the funds needed to repair and replace the 3.5 miles of critical infrastructure repairs needed over the next 25 years.

"All the sanitary sewers, water systems and storm sewers need to be replaced ... due to the havoc wreaked on them over the years," Swanson said.

Swanson also pointed out that repairing the systems would benefit Lake Superior, as it would help with wastewater systems.

Although she didn't speak before the committee Two Harbors Area Chamber of Commerce President Janelle Jones traveled with Swanson and City Councilor Cathy Erickson to show the business community's support for the proposal.

"I require cities to have a letter of support proving that the business community supports this action," Bakk said. "And they have it."

Erickson added that the sales tax is estimated to provide $280,000 in revenue annually. Although this amount wouldn't be enough to cover all the repair and replacement costs, it would be one component of the city's plan.

Sen. David Senjam, R-Rochester, congratulated the effort.

"I applaud you for doing this. Many cities have this problem and don't have this option, but you folks are stepping up to the plate and I applaud you for it," Senjam said.

Committee Chairman Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, noted that the tax is not typically used for infrastructure improvements, "but I don't see why not."

"I don't think it's a crazy idea or a big problem," Chamberlain said.

However, the bill's fate is yet to be determined. Bakk wished the committee luck negotiating with the House of Representatives tax committee because it isn't currently in the House's tax bill.

"I'd appreciate if you'd raise it and try to accomplish this for the city," Bakk said. "This is also pretty important for Lake Superior and clean water, too. When you sit right on the shore and have bad stormwater and infiltration issues, that's a problem to water quality. So to see these shore cities step up and be willing to tax not only their own citizens, but their visitors, I'd appreciate the support to take this issue head-on."

Teri Cadeau

Teri Cadeau is a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. 

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