Our Opinion: Too much of a good thing?

Brainerd Dispatch editorial


The half-cent sales tax Crow Wing County initiated to fund road improvement projects in Crow Wing County has been and continues to be a great idea.

More than $7.4 million in sales tax revenue was collected in 2020, a 6.5% increase over 2019, generated from approximately $1.5 billion in retail sales in the county. A study conducted by the University of Minnesota Extension at the time predicted slightly more than half of the tax would be covered by tourists spending money in the county.

Simply put, the sales tax has meant not just Crow Wing County residents are paying for the upkeep of our county roads, but anyone who comes here and spends money.

If there’s one issue we have with the tax, it’s the length of time it will take to sunset it. The county board on April 13 approved extending the tax another 15 years, to 2040. We fully support the extension, but not the length of time it has been extended.

State law requires a plan outlining every project revenues from the tax would support. Included in the county’s sales tax implementation plan through 2040 are 78 pavement rehabilitation or reconstruction projects on county highways and roads, 13 bridge replacements or rehabilitations and four conversions of gravel roads to pavement. Also supported by local option sales tax dollars are general maintenance projects such as seal coating, center and fog line painting, crack sealing, patching, shouldering, graveling and dust control.


That’s a lot of work on the horizon and having a more steady funding source through the sales tax makes it easier to plan. Our only issue is that county commissioners should be reviewing this tax, which was never meant to be permanent, more often and a 15 year extension is a long time.

In offering input to the Crow Wing County Board, Matt Kilian, president of the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, suggested reducing the sales tax from 15 years to 10 years.

“This raises a reasonable question about how much local tax revenue is enough to sustain maintenance goals. With inevitable changes in the economy, demographics, technology and politics, a 10-year extension would seem sufficient,” Kilian wrote to the board. “More frequent evaluation would accommodate two cycles of a five-year capital improvement plan to determine whether the half-cent sales tax would be warranted in the future. In our view, it would ensure continued public transparency and accountability, which has been the goal of the Crow Wing County Board.”

We agree with Kilian. There’s a danger that work will continue to expand to use the money coming in, regardless of the need of that work. To paraphrase an old adage, politicians never met a pool of money they didn’t like and, once they have the money, they usually are compelled to spend it. That’s not always a good thing.

We’re not advocating for getting rid of the sales tax. We only think county commissioners should review it more often before extending it. The tax has been successful, but the concern is it becomes too successful and never goes away.

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