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Winona plans for $10M local sales tax (08/18/2013)
By Chris Rogers
City of Winona staff members just released their wish list for coming years. The draft Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) suggests borrowing $4.56 million over the next five years and instituting a $10 million local sales tax. The plan includes $24 million for a Louisa Street extension and overpass and $3 million for renovations to the Central Fire Station.

City staff members hope to levy $10 million through a local sales tax in order to begin work in 2015 on an extension to Louisa Street, which would offer another connection to Highway 61 for East End industrial and retail areas. The proposed CIP does not specify whether this would be a city sales tax initiated through a referendum vote, such as the half-cent sales tax that was denied by voters in 2006, or a county sales tax, which can be initiated by the County Board without voter approval. When asked which option the city was pursuing, City Manager Judy Bodway said, "I think that's still open."

The other half of the much discussed Louisa Street proposal is a $14 million railroad overpass like the one that was built for Pelzer Street. Staff listed "other" as the funding source for that project, which, with the $10 Louisa Street extension, is the largest in the CIP and the only project with such an indefinite funding source.

General obligation bonds, which involve borrowing and increasing property taxes, are the proposed funding source for $3 million in renovations to Central Fire Station. Fire Chief Curt Bittle explained that the current fire station suffers from electrical and plumbing issues due to the age of those systems. Bittle said, if approved, the $3 million overhaul would resolve the plumbing and electrical problems, replace the station's leaky roof, construct a new parking bay for fire engines, remove asbestos, renovate the "1950s-era kitchen," and provide separate sleeping arrangements for any future female firefighters the force has historically been all-male.

In the CIP, the Central Fire Station project is described as a remodel or replacement of the existing facility. In the past, the city made plans and purchased surrounding property to construct a new combination fire and police station in the area. Bittle says that concept has not been discussed recently, and he does not expect to see a replacement of the fire station for many years.

Other notable items in the CIP include $1 million for improvements to Riverview Drive and $750,000 for installing larger water mains. In an interview, Bodway declined to explain what the proposed improvements to Riverview Drive would be. She also declined to explain where the proposed water main expansions were located. Director of Public Works Keith Nelson also declined to provide additional information on the water main upgrades and declined requests for interviews.

The Winona City Council will listen to a presentation on the CIP proposal from city staff on Monday, August 19 at 5:15 p.m. in the Wenonah Room at city hall. This meeting is open to the public.



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