Council declines to support county tax

Permit allows LILA to occupy building across 11th Avenue SE


Clint Riese
News Editor

The Washington County Board of Commissioners will not find support from the Forest Lake City Council for its plan to raise the wheelage tax. Appearing at the first council meeting of the month, District 1 Commissioner Fran Miron of Hugo asked the council to consider a resolution supporting the proposed tax expansion as a means for keeping the county’s road system up to par.

The local council’s support is not a requirement; the county is hoping to find backing as the state legislature mulls whether to allow counties to increase the current $5-per-vehicle tax.

At the second council meeting of the month, held Monday night, the resolution failed to garner a motion. Council members were not comfortable with the concept of formally weighing in on another board’s proposal.

“I don’t think this is our role, and I don’t think we should be doing it,” Councilman Mike Freer said. “I just don’t think the city should be getting involved in a county issue, like the county getting involved in a city issue.”

Councilman Ben Winnick does not want to see the wheelage tax increased.

“I don’t support it,” he said. “It’s just one more tax hidden in there. They should be able to find the money somewhere else, not just keep increasing fees.

“It’s time to send a message that government agencies need to prioritize their budgets.”

Councilman Jeff Klein said it would be easier for him to support the county’s plan had the city not recently enacted a franchise fee for its own road improvements.

Councilwoman Susan Young likened the tax to a user fee and said she would rather see that than a property tax increase. However, she felt the council members’ opinions should be shared with the county board on a personal level rather than through a blanket statement.

City Administrator Aaron Parrish noted that Forest Lake has been the beneficiary of the county’s wheelage tax proceeds in the form of recent road improvements such as the reconstruction of Broadway Avenue over the previous two summers.

LILA Plan Approved

The council unanimously approved a conditional use permit that will allow Lakes International Language Academy to expand its campus across the street to include the building at 121 SE 11th Ave.

The growing public charter school plans to use the Canvas Health building for additional classroom and office space starting next school year. The expansion will allow total staffing to increase from 35 to 50 and enrollment to jump from 650 to 825.

The council held a lengthy discussion regarding how this will create the need for students to cross 11th Avenue, one of Highway 61’s busiest crossings in town. Community Development Director Doug Borglund and architect Dennis Batty discussed the school’s detailed drop-off/pick-up protocol and steps the school will take to ensure safety.

Road Improvements

City Engineer Ryan Goodman gave an overview of the seal coating and overlay projects on deck for this summer.

Mill and overlay work is proposed on the following streets north of Highway 97 and east of South Shore Drive at a budgeted cost of $415,000: Seventh to 18th avenues SE, 10th Street SE, 15th Street SE, 19th Street SE, Bay Point Drive SE, Beach Drive SE and Bay Drive SE.

Under a budget of $135,000, seal coating and crack filling is proposed on the following streets south of Highway 97 and east of Highway 61: Georgia Avenue N., Georgia Avenue Court N., Georgia Avenue Circle N., Georgia Avenue Place N., Goodview Avenue N., Glenbrook Avenue N., Glenbrook Court N. and 210th Street N.