Sartell voters reject proposed 1.5% food and beverage tax

Sartell residents on Tuesday voted down a proposed sales tax increase that would have funded park and recreation amenities in the central Minnesota city.

Two-thirds of voters rejected the measure to authorize a 1.5% food and beverage tax at bars and restaurants, coffee shops, fast food joints and licensed liquor establishments. The proposed tax would have applied to customers — not the establishment — and would not have included purchases at gas stations, grocery stores or off-sale liquor stores.

The city’s convention and visitors bureau, Everything Sartell, endorsed the proposed tax that it said would allow the city to raise money from purchases from thousands of visitors who visit the city each year for athletic tournaments or other events.

The estimated $300,000 in annual revenue would have helped the city expand park and recreation amenities — such as improvements to baseball fields and bike trails, or the construction of a new all-inclusive playground — without increasing property taxes.

“We looked at this tax as a financial tool to create options for how we fund our park and rec within the community,” Sartell Mayor Ryan Fitzthum said. “Rather than the traditional route of always having it on the back of property taxpayers, we looked at it as an opportunity to put it as more of a user tax for people that are using the park and rec amenities and who come into town as visitors and stop at our restaurants.”

Sartell Engagement Director Nikki Sweeter said she’s disappointed but thankful to the residents who voted.

“It wasn’t a very close vote,” she said. “I think maybe our community really did speak — right now is just not the right time for this.”

Fewer than 700 residents voted in the special election. Sweeter said she is a little disappointed in the low voter turnout but said city leaders expected a smaller-than-normal turnout due to it being a special election.

“Our youth organizations were really engaged in the process leading up to voting so we’re a little bit at a loss,” she said. “I think getting that education piece from our community is definitely going to be our next step because there’s obviously something [voters] didn’t like about it.”

Sartell’s sales tax is 7.625%, which includes the state sales tax as well as a quarter-cent county tax and a regional half-cent tax that helps fund regional projects in Sartell, St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids and Waite Park. St. Cloud has a 1% food and beverage tax that’s been in place for more than three decades, with the revenue used for capital projects.