ST. PETER — The city of St. Peter is back at the Minnesota Legislature this year with a request to sign off on a $9.1 million local option sales tax proposal to replace its 92-year-old fire station.

City officials are seeking permission for the sales tax, which by law legislators have to approve before residents vote on a referendum. If the Legislature passes the proposal, St. Peter residents would vote on a local option sales tax during local elections this November.

The 0.5% local sales tax increase is set to cover up to two-thirds of the project’s cost, while a property tax increase will cover the remaining cost of a new fire station.

City officials say a local option sales tax is the best way to pay for the new fire station as about 37% of property within St. Peter is tax exempt. That property includes the St. Peter Regional Treatment Center, as well as churches and city buildings.

St. Peter officials brought the proposal to lawmakers last year, but the Legislature shelved many similar proposals after COVID-19 struck the state.

Proponents of the bill say a new fire station is necessary for St. Peter’s volunteer fire department as the current fire hall doesn’t fit the needs of a modern firefighting force.

Built in 1929 as a Nicollet County garage, the 7,200-square-foot St. Peter Fire Station wasn’t originally meant to be a fire hall. The city converted it to its current use in 1958.

City Administrator Todd Prafke said the building simply doesn’t keep up with the fire department’s needs.

“The size of the trucks has changed, the amount of stuff that’s necessary to fight fires has changed,” Prafke said. “The amount of specialty equipment is different than it was 20, 30, 50 years ago.”

Prafke also pointed out the fire hall doesn’t have enough room for proper decontamination and safety requirements after firefighters finish putting out a blaze.

“We really feel a strong sense of need to help ensure we’re doing the appropriate stuff to keep those firefighters safe and healthy,” Prafke said.

St. Peter Council member Ed Johnson, a volunteer firefighter, said the fire station’s lack of showers means firefighters have to take home carcinogens rather than clean off once they’re done with a fire.

The city hopes to build a 22,000-square-foot facility if lawmakers sign off on the sales tax. St. Peter Mayor Chuck Zieman said the new fire station would be built on the western edge of the city. The new station would have enough space for current and future equipment, as well as training for the 36-member department.

Lawmakers appear supportive of the request thus far. The House property tax committee laid over a bill sponsored by Rep. Susan Akland, R-St. Peter, Thursday for possible inclusion in a larger tax bill later this session. Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, is authoring a similar bill in the Senate.

“It’s a public safety expense, and I think a very reasonable one to approve,” Frentz said.

Akland said she didn’t necessarily support St. Peter’s proposal. She thinks it’s clear the city needs a new fire station, but she’s hesitant over raising property taxes. Still, she believes lawmakers should approve the bill so residents can determine whether to move forward with the project.

“I’m just here to give citizens the opportunity to vote yes or no,” she said. “It’s something I think the citizens should decide.”

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