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Vicki Gerdes, Published March 02 2014

SMART sales tax will start soon in Becker County

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – A half-cent sales tax will soon be imposed on all retail goods and services sold in Becker County to pay for county, city and township transportation projects.

A resolution to adopt the new Safe, Multi-Modal, Active, Responsible Transportation (SMART) tax was unanimously approved by the Becker County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 25.

Addressing the 20 or so county residents in attendance for the public hearing on the proposed tax, County Administrator Jack Ingstad said, “The county could begin collection (of the tax) as early as July if the board adopts it today.”

As County Highway Engineer Jim Olson noted during his presentation at the public hearing, projects unded by the SMART tax should meet at least one of the following identified criteria:

- Preserving the existing road system.

- Addressing safety needs.

- Major and minor system improvements.

- Multi-modal enhancements (Safe Routes to Schools, trail projects).

- Economic development.

- Addressing the county’s changing demographics and traffic patterns.

“Once these projects have all been completed, the tax eventually goes away,” Olson said, noting that projects to be funded via the SMART tax would be reviewed annually.

Though up to $20 million in road projects have been identified as meeting the preliminary SMART guidelines, the commissioners have authorized just $860,000 in projects to begin construction this year.

“I think the (state) Legislature giving us the opportunity to do this … we’re very lucky to have it,” said Detroit Lakes Alderman Ron Zeman, one of several City Council members on hand for the hearing to express their support for the proposal.

“People realize this is a real plus for the whole county, not just Detroit Lakes, as an opportunity to improve our roads,” said County Board Chairman John Okeson.

Some discussion at the hearing was devoted to whether the new tax would decrease the county’s property tax levy for road construction projects.