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Cloquet, Carlton County voters to decide sales tax questions

A 0.5% sales tax question to fund two projects in Cloquet will be on November's ballot for city residents, along with a question on how Carlton County residents want to fund the justice center project.

A sign showing the address for the Carlton County Justice Center, 1780 Justice Dr., is seen recently. County residents will decide whether to fund the project through a 0.5% local option sales tax or through property taxes when they cast ballots on Nov. 8.
Dylan Sherman / Cloquet Pine Journal
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CARLTON — Carlton County and Cloquet residents will vote on three different sales tax questions on Election Day, with city officials looking to fund two projects and county officials looking for guidance on how to fund the new justice center.

The first question for Cloquet residents would be for improvements at Pine Valley Park. The 0.5% sales tax would be collected for 10 years or until $2,124,700 is collected. The funding would go to repairs and restoration of the ski jump, replacing the chalet, paving the parking lot and installing lighting.

The second question would be for the Cloquet Ice Arena Improvement project. This tax would be collected for 10 years or until $6,025,000 is collected. That amount would allow officials to replace the ice floor at the Northwoods Arena, improve lighting, replace the roof and more.

Cloquet City Administrator Tim Peterson said that should both questions pass it would only result in a single 0.5% increase to sales taxes in Cloquet, and allow officials to collect the amount needed for both projects.

The funding is a way for officials to work on projects without increasing property taxes.

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"We need to find new ways, and better ways, to try and find funding for projects that are needed," Peterson said.

The two questions are aimed at ensuring the longevity of the park and arena.

"Some projects require attention sooner rather than later, for instance the ski jumps out at Pine Valley," he said. "We want them to be safe — they are obviously well used."

For the arena, Peterson said the city's current method to cool the ice is out of date, as the liquid used to cool and create ice is no longer being produced. While officials have a limited stock on hand to prolong the life of the ice plant, Peterson said the city will get to the point where it needs to be replaced.

"Otherwise it will be extremely cost prohibitive to continue to run the ice plant," he said.

As both Pine Valley and the arena attract people from outside of the city, Peterson said using sales taxes to generate the funds eases the burden on just landowners.

Should both of the questions fail, Peterson said it would be up to the city council to decide how to move forward with specific projects they want to undertake. Peterson added that the bulk of the funding will be used to keep the facilities running and safe for longer.

Carlton County Justice Center

Voters in Carlton County will also have the option to vote on a county-wide 0.5% local option sales tax to fund the county's justice center project. If approved, the tax would run for 30 years or until the county has collected $60 million.

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Unlike the city's options, the county's project is already under construction and voters are just deciding how it will be funded.

Carlton County County Coordinator Dennis Genereau said the state issued a sunset letter on the county's current jail for 2023, which resulted in the need for a new facility. A sales tax would give the county a wider pool of people to shoulder the costs of the new facility, as it would spread the costs to anyone who makes purchases in Carlton County.

Should the ballot question fail, county officials have said the cost of the justice center would be shifted onto people's property taxes.

Regardless of what happens at the polls, Genereau said county officials are trying to secure as much funding as they can for the project. Earlier in the year, officials lobbied the Minnesota Legislature to include $22.5 million for the justice center in its bonding bill. While they were able to get the funding included, lawmakers never passed the bonding bill.

Additional state funding would also help to cover the total cost of the project as construction costs were set at $65.8 million. Officials anticipate another $9 million in soft costs for things like furniture and fitting out the new building, Genereau said.

Should the county get funding from the state, it could ultimately lower the cost on county residents, as the county would not need to collect the full $60 million through taxes, Genereau said.

"We are trying to reduce the local burden as much as we can," he said.

Dylan covers the local governments of Cloquet and Carlton County, as well as the Esko and Wrenshall school boards for the Cloquet Pine Journal.
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