Stillwater residents to vote on local sales tax for riverfront improvements

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Voters in Stillwater this fall will be asked to support a half-percent sales tax on general purchases to pay for improvements at parks along the St. Croix River.

The Stillwater City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to authorize the referendum. If approved by voters, the sales tax is expected to raise up to $6.2 million over a 10-year period starting in 2025, city officials said.

State law requires the tax to automatically sunset once funds required for the projects are collected, or in 10 years, whichever occurs first.

Based on a University of Minnesota Extension study on the city’s sales tax statistics from 2020, Stillwater officials estimate the city could generate $970,000 each year with about 46 percent of that coming from nonresidents. City Administrator Joe Kohlmann, however, said he expects that the amount raised could be even higher, considering the the pandemic and civil unrest of 2020.

The sales tax would help pay for projects along the city’s riverfront including:

Renovation of the Aiple house and construction of a parking lot at Lumberjack Landing Park, a new park north of downtown Stillwater
Picnic shelter, turf, irrigation and signage at Bridgeview Park, a new park south of downtown Stillwater
Riverbank stabilization

The money raised by the sales tax would supplement the $6 million grant the city received last year from the Minnesota Legislature for park improvements, said Stillwater City Council member Mike Polehna.

“It will enable us to finish the entire riverfront,” Polehna said. “We’re a lucky community to have control of basically the entire waterfront in front of Stillwater. What an amenity for the community to develop all that. We are going to have the most awesome waterfront in the state of Minnesota.”

Mayor Ted Kozlowski said the benefit of the sales tax is that it “doesn’t put the entire burden (of paying for these improvements) on the property-tax payers in Stillwater,” since the sales tax is paid by visitors as well as residents.

“It will be nice to get some additional dollars from people outside of our community to fund these things,” he said.

Part of the money for the restoration of the Aiple house at Lumberjack Landing was donated by resident Geri Freels, who gave $1 million to the city in 2021 after reading an article in the Pioneer Press about the city’s plans for the park.

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