"Let the people from Iowa pay ...," Stuehrenberg added.
Meyer also pointed out that the city of Mankato already has a half-percent local option sales tax. Restaurant meals and drinks in the city have an additional half-percent added. So if the county imposed another half-percent on top of the Mankato tax and the 6.875 percent statewide sales tax, the Mankato rate would be pushing 8 percent for most goods — higher for dinners and drinks.
"That would put our area at one of the highest rates in the state," Meyer said. "... Our economy is very strong, and we wouldn't want to negatively affect that."
A year ago, Commissioners Kip Bruender, Will Purvis and Mark Piepho were skeptical of imposing the sales tax for those reasons and also uninterested in rushing into the new tax before any comparable counties had. Now, Beltrami, Wadena, Olmsted, Rice, Douglas and Becker have imposed the tax, Meyer said. And the estimated revenue available to Blue Earth County continues to only grow.
The Minnesota Transportation Alliance estimates a full half-percent tax would generate $7.4 million a year here, County Public Works Director Al Forsberg said.
Forsberg also laid out the need for more funding. Currently, the county levies $5.2 million in property taxes for its road and bridge fund, with about $2 million of it being used for construction.
Even when supplemented by state transportation aid, the county is falling behind in maintaining its road system. For instance, based on the anticipated lifespan of the county's paved roads, major rehabilitation should be done on about 20 miles of county highway each year to keep pace. But with that intensive reconstruction costing about $600,000 per mile, only 12 to 15 miles are actually completed, Forsberg said.
Maintenance and repair for the county's gravel roads, road expansions required by the growing Mankato area, needed upgrades to four 50-year-old highway maintenance shops around the county, and aging bridges only add to the funding gap.