ST. PETER – The City of St. Peter is back in Minnesota law this year and has moved to sign a $ 9.1 million sales tax proposal on local options to replace the 92-year-old fire station.
City officials apply for permission for sales tax, which must be approved by lawmakers before residents vote on a referendum. If lawmakers passed the proposal, St. Peter’s residents would vote on a sales tax on local options in the November local elections.
The 0.5% increase in local sales tax is intended to cover up to two thirds of the project costs, while an increase in property tax covers the remaining costs of a new fire station.
City officials say a local option sales tax is the best way to pay for the new fire station, as about 37% of St. Peter’s property is tax-free. This property includes the St. Peter’s Regional Treatment Center as well as churches and city buildings.
St. Peter’s officials tabled the proposal to lawmakers last year, but lawmakers put many similar proposals on hold after COVID-19 hit the state.
Proponents of the bill say that a new fire station is necessary for the St. Peter’s Volunteer Fire Department as the current fire department hall does not meet the requirements of a modern fire department.
The 7,200-square-foot St. Peter Fire Station was built as a garage in Nicollet County in 1929 and was not originally intended as a fire station. The city rebuilt it in 1958 for its current use.
City administrator Todd Prafke said the building just doesn’t meet the needs of the fire department.
“The size of the trucks has changed, the amount of material that is needed to fight fires has changed,” said Prafke. “The amount of special equipment is different than it was 20, 30, 50 years ago.”
Prafke also pointed out that the fire station does not have enough space for proper decontamination and safety requirements after the firefighters put out a fire.
“We really have a strong need to make sure we are taking the right steps to keep these firefighters safe and healthy,” said Prafke.
St. Peter Council member Ed Johnson, a volunteer firefighter, said the lack of showers at the fire station means firefighters need to take carcinogens home rather than removing them once they are done with a fire.
The city hopes to build a 22,000-square-foot facility if lawmakers approve sales tax. St. Peter’s Mayor Chuck Zieman said the new fire station will be built on the western edge of town. The new station would have enough space for current and future equipment as well as training for the 36-person department.
The legislature seems to support the previous demand. The House’s Real Estate Tax Committee put forward a bill approved by Rep. Susan Akland, R-St. Peter, Thursday for possible inclusion in a larger tax bill later in this session. Senator Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, is drafting a similar bill in the Senate.
“It’s a public safety issue, and I think a very reasonable one to approve,” Frentz said.
Akland said she doesn’t necessarily support St. Peter’s proposal. She thinks it’s clear the city needs a new fire station, but she’s hesitant to raise property taxes. Still, she believes lawmakers should approve the bill so residents can decide whether to move on with the project.
“I’m only here to give citizens a chance to vote yes or no,” she said. “I think citizens should choose it.”