MARSHALL - They didn't give much feedback, but Marshall businesspeople had plenty of questions about a pair of projects and local sales tax options headed for the ballot in November. And those questions took center stage during an informational meeting given by the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday evening.
Marshall Area Chamber Director Cal Brink said the goal for the meeting was to answer local businesspeople's questions on a proposed amateur sports center and expansions for the Minnesota Emergency Response and Training (MERIT) Center, as well as the local sales taxes proposed to help pay for the projects. Brink said the discussion Wednesday was meant to be informational and not persuasive regarding the upcoming vote.
Brink said there will be two questions on the ballot Nov. 6 - one for the amateur sports center, and one for the MERIT Center. A .5 percent general sales tax in Marshall would pay for construction costs for the projects, and a 1.5 percent tax on prepared food, beverage and lodging would help pay for operating costs.
"What happens if only one vote passes?" audience members asked.
Brink said that's been a common question. If only one project gets voters' support, the sales taxes would still take effect, and the approved project would move forward. If only one project is approved, it could affect how long the taxes remain in effect.
If both projects are approved, the sales tax rates would not be combined, Brink said - they'd stay at .5 percent and 1.5 percent, not 1 percent and 3 percent.
Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig said he wanted to correct statements he had made earlier regarding taxable purchases under the proposal. There would not be a flat tax on motor vehicles, Martig said.
Brink said many details of the proposed sports facility would only be settled after a "yes" vote, but he said the sports center would be 80,000 square feet with seating for 1,200 people in the main ice arena. Design solicitations would begin after the project is approved, he said. Martig said the city of Marshall would own the sports center facilities.
Audience members also asked what would happen if the taxes weren't enough to cover operating costs for the projects.
Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission Co-Chairman Roger Madison said the 1.5 percent food, beverage and lodging tax was meant to provide enough funding to help with operating costs up front, with user fees helping both facilities to need the tax less over time. Martig said there "would likely be a significant operating reserve," to help if revenues do not cover expenses.
Some audience members had questions about the local taxes' effect when combined with Minnesota's general sales tax of 6.875 percent. Adding together the state sales tax, the .5 percent local sales tax and the 1.5 percent food and beverage tax, meant a person eating at a restaurant would pay an 8.875 percent sales tax, audience members said. They asked whether any other cities in the region had a sales tax rate that high, and what the response was to it.
Brink said he had not asked that question when surveying other cities with local sales taxes. However, he said the cities surveyed didn't report a loss of business because of sales tax.
For Marshall's proposed taxes, Brink said, the increase in sales tax over what area consumers already pay would be small.