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Perham takes step towards local option sales tax

Perham city council members approved moving forward with a plan that could potentially bring a local option sales tax to the city of Perham at their Dec. 11 meeting.

The potential .5 percent sales tax increase, which must first be approved by voters in Perham and authorized by the state legislature, would be used to raise funds to be used towards capital improvements to enhance providing services for family and wellness activities at either or both the former Perham High School and the Perham Area Community Center.

All council members were in favor of the resolution except Fred Lehmkuhl, who expressed a lack of answers to too many questions about what the actual plan was for the former high school.

Lehmkuhl noted that he likes the idea of the school finding a new purpose but needed some concrete answers to how it would be used and how it would be paid for. He felt the city was putting the cart before the horse.

"When will we see a formalized plan?" Lehmkuhl asked.

City manager Jonathan Smith said he has met with the planning group in the last week and they have gone over numbers as far as how the school and community center might function, but no concrete plan is defined.

The resolution authorized the mayor and city manager to call an election for voters of the city of Perham to approve or reject the sales tax. It also requests the legislature approve use of the tax increase for redevelopment, renovation, design, construction, furnishing and equipping of buildings land and infrastructure at the PACC and former high school. It also requests that the state match the funds raised to pay the principle and interest on capital improvement bonds for the project.

"Doing this does not mean that Perham will have a local option sales tax," Smith said.

He considered this step one of possibly eight steps needed to move forward.

"We are being pretty proactive and pretty aggressive to move this forward," Smith said.

He noted that the project would not normally go to the legislature before the local voters, but because of the time of the next election, he considered it pertinent to move to the legislature first then bring it to the voters—otherwise the building could be vacant much longer than many would like. The language of the resolution is such that the tax dollars could be used to improve the site or it could be used to demolish the school and use the site for something else altogether.

"By no means does this resolution say that we are taking over the building," Smith added.

Council member Brad Schmidt noted that questions remained to be answered, but he believed this resolution was a safe and proactive step forward.

"I believe there is merit in what they are doing," Schmidt said of the groups planning for a repurpose.

Council member James Johnson said he didn't see a downside to being proactive.

Lehmkuhl noted the sales tax increase would bring the city sales tax to 7.875 percent, he feared that increase could decrease sales in the community. Mayor Tim Meehl disagreed stating that it would not dissuade people from shopping Perham.

Council member Johnson moved to support the resolution, Schmidt seconded.

All were in favor except Lehmkuhl, who voted against.