MANKATO — Until now, Mankato street lights have been paid for in part with property taxes.
Taking that $450,000 cost out of the budget and funding it with monthly “fees” — paid by all properties, including nonprofits — had numerous nonprofit representatives and community members crying foul during a public forum Monday night at the Verizon Wireless Center.
Several asked: If it was a tax before, then why isn’t it still a tax that is being charged to tax-exempt properties?
“It is basically being arbitrarily changed from ‘tax’ to ‘fee,’” said Councilman Mark Frost, a statement with which Councilman Charlie Hurd agreed. “My attitude is this is still a tax.”
Councilman Jack Considine and City Manager Pat Hentges said the fee isn’t a tax because the cost of the lights will be isolated into a specific fund for a specific service. And having all users of that service paying into the fund is more fair than having that cost be paid solely by property tax payers, they said.
Despite the dispute among the council and dissension voiced by members of the public, the measure passed with a 4-3 vote, meaning the fee will begin appearing on monthly utility bills in January.
The cost to most will be small. Single-family residences will pay $2.50 per month, as will commercial and industrial properties under 75 feet. Two- or three-unit residences will pay $5 per month.
Commercial and industrial properties with more than 75 feet of frontage, as well as tax-exempt properties, will pay 5 cents per linear foot of frontage.
So for the Red Cross, for example, that comes out to $10 per month. The Boy Scouts will pay $45.60 per month. Of the tax-exempt properties, Minnesota State University will pay the most at about $1,160 per month.
But several nonprofit representatives, including church members and VINE Faith in Action, pointed out that their budgets are tight, and every dollar counts. Bob Ihrig, congregation president at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, said the church already went through its budget process this fall, and extra costs impact the church’s ability to serve the community.