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County approves 0.25 percent tax for transit

Buying items and eating out in Dakota County will cost you more as of July 1.

At its regular Tuesday meeting, the Dakota County Board of Commissioners approved the adoption of a 0.25 percent sales and use tax and supported a joint powers agreement establishing a metro counties transit improvement board.

The generated funds will provide the metropolitan area with capital and operating funds for transitway stations, park-and-ride facilities, right-of-way acquisition, stock and operation.

The approval was on a 5-2 vote with commissioners Joseph Harris and Kathleen Gaylord voting against the action.

Establishment of the additional tax was included in the Minnesota Legislature comprehensive transportation bill, which was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, then overridden by the Legislature,?

"I think what is most disappointing about this was that the original intent was to fund both transit and transportation," said Harris. "Then there was the change in the legislation and now it only includes transit; and I realize that there are needs there and I realize, too that was the only way to gain the approval of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

"I find it hard to support, because there are a lot of transportation issues, many in my district," he said. Harris represents the Farmington area and much of the southern part of the county.

Gaylord said she has concerns about the joint powers agreement and exactly how much funding Dakota County will receive from the revenues.

"I'm voting against this," she said.

Commissioner Michael Turner offered another slant on the proposal.

"We have to have alternative means of moving the people," he said. "I don't have a choice -- we have to provide something for the future.

Commissioner Willis Branning agreed with Turner.

'We have to provide alternate modes of transportation," he said. "The answer is not more asphalt.

"This is another way to move people through the county," said Commissioner Paul Krause.

Commissioner Schouweiler pointed to the 2006 residential survey.

"The issue of congestion ranked very high on the survey," she said. "The best option to relieve the congestion is to focus on transit."

Two county residents, one for adoption, the other opposed, spoke.

The Inver Grove Heights resident urged the commissioners to vote in favor of adoption, saying it would improve roads, transit and mobility.

As a senior citizen, he said he wanted dependable transit. Eventually, there may be light using lighter fuel in buses.

A Farmington resident said the adoption of the sales tax was a bad idea. He noted that on Tuesday, the gas tax increased by two cents a gallon, and such talk about a sale tax adoption was talk only about raising taxes.

Turner said the county is expected to grow by about 100,000 residents by 2030. The county highway department, however, expects congestion to increase 400 percent during the same time frame.

Without a bus transit operation, Cedar Avenue (through Apple Valley and Burnsville) could only be expanded to 10 to 12 lanes. Congestion would still occur, Turner said.

When asked if MN/DOT planned to replace any bridges crossing from Dakota County into the metropolitan?area during the same time period, county engineer Mark Krebsbach said only one -- the Hastings bridge on Highway 61 -- was scheduled for replacement. The bridge will go from two lanes to four lanes. later in the discussion, it was noted the Lafayette Bridge is also scheduled for replacement. The number of lanes over the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers will not significantly change.