Red Wing residents give the city high marks for services and are willing to pay slightly higher taxes to maintain them, according to the results of a recent community survey.
Finance Director Marshall Hallock said while these surveys used to be done on a regular basis, it was one of the areas squeezed out by tight budgets.
And while some criticized the expenditure -- the city contracted with the firm Springsted earlier this year and spent a total of $14,880 on the survey and analysis -- Hallock said the information will be key in decision-making.
"In government, citizens are the focus ... so it's important to check on a routine basis on how they perceive the city is addressing their needs," he said.
Don Lifto of Springsted presented the survey results to the City Council at its meeting Monday.
The survey, completed earlier this month, polled 300 registered voters over the phone. They were randomly selected, Lifto said, but matched the city's demographics of age, gender, voting activity and precinct and ward.
Nearly 66 percent of respondents gave the city an "A" or "B" grade on services, and just 5 percent gave it a "D" or "F."
Survey participants also said they were most likely to support a property tax increase to maintain fire, ambulance and police services. They were less likely to support increases to fund local transportation or the Red Wing Regional Airport, city communications or economic activities.
About 63 percent of residents were willing to support a property tax increase that would add $50 to their bill, but that number quickly dropped below 50 percent when asked about a $75 increase and to 38.7 percent on a $100 increase.
There were few discrepancies in the responses from residents of different genders, levels of income or education, Lifto said, but residency in Red Wing did have a big effect.
"There is significantly higher support from people who have been here for 15 years or longer," Lifto said.
Local option sales tax
"The survey did a host of things, and one of those was to test the waters on a local option sales tax," Hallock said.
A local option sales tax is a tax applied at the local level, usually by a city or county.
"We've been considering it, particularly as the budget and economic realities become more acute," Hallock said.
At first, less than a third of the survey respondents said they'd favor a local option sales tax. About 66 percent opposed the measure, while 3 percent were undecided.
"Initially, the reaction was lukewarm to the use of a local option sales tax," Lifto said. "(But) all groups showed positive movement with more information."
After hearing potential uses for the tax, the number of those who would support it rose to 42 percent, and opposition dropped to just more than 56 percent.
Typically, local option sales tax revenues can be used for "projects of regional significance," Hallock said. In Red Wing, that could mean funding maintenance issues on the roads, repairing the Sheldon Theatre, keeping up parks and trails and other similar projects.
But the measure is temporarily on hold. Proposed legislation in the Minnesota House would put a moratorium on such taxes, while a Senate version would reduce Local Government Aid to cities that impose such a tax.
"I don't see a reason for us to make any decisions until the Legislature makes a decision," said Council member Mike Schultz, and others agreed.
A local option sales tax would have to be approved in special legislation and by a referendum on the ballot in a general election, Hallock said.
If the city continues to pursue such a tax, officials would look for public input on where to spend the funds, he said, as well as educating the public on potential uses for the tax revenue.