Friday, October 08, 2004

The mayor's chamber-maids 

The local Chamber of Commerce was backed into a corner by Mayor John Ellenbecker and decided to support a 17-year extension of the half-cent sales tax in the St. Cloud area.

A poll of member businesses showed 69 percent of those who responded support keeping the sales tax in place. An identical percentage believe the local tax has had little or no impact on their businesses, chamber president Teresa Bohnen said.

"We wanted an accurate barometer of what our membership was thinking," she said. "We can be confident that this reflects the will of the chamber membership, and the board felt an overall statement of support for the ballot was needed."

Board members also voted to put up to $10,000 into an independent ad campaign to support the referendum. It will run in the two weeks before the vote, Bohnen said.

Last month, Ellenbecker contacted the chamber leadership to warn it that failure to support the referendum, which seeks money to expand the Civic Center, among other items, could jeopardize a $500,000 annual contract for chamber operation of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The mayor of course, doesn't call it pressure at all. But of course it is. The city has placed six questions asking for extension authority, for six different projects. Approve any one and the city will go to the state legislature, which must sign off on any extension.

Ellenbecker said he didn't think the e-mail was inappropriate.

"I understand their position of wanting to serve the desires of their membership, but at some point you have to serve in a leadership role," he said.

One of our Quarterly Business Reports looked at this issue and showed that a full third of our survey respondents disliked the idea -- about the same as found in the Chamber's survey -- and another 20% were neither in favor or opposed. 42% were in favor. We called the view then as being divided. One wonders if the choice of being indifferent was available. One of the comments we got from a survey respondent then was
In favor because the tax is coming from outsiders visiting our community in
large part. Not in favor because of the decision-making process with local
buildings, i.e. Civic Center and library.
That is, there is probably support among the local businesses for a tax, but they don't like the current administration's use of the revenues.

So, one wonders, why a 17 year tax? Doesn't this seem extraordinarily long? The local signs in support of the sales tax extension say "Let's keep a good thing going." And going. And going.