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City leans toward local option sales tax referendum

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington City Council appeared to move closer Monday night to including a local option sales tax referendum on the November ballot.

"Several have mentioned to me that we have to go ahead with it this fall," Councilman Leland Hain said.

A Worthington School District 518 operating referendum is also expected to be placed on the general election ballot this year. The possibility of two such measures on the ballot in the same year had caused some to question whether both could pass. But Council members, along with Mayor Alan Oberloh, agreed Monday that the timing may be just right for the city referendum -- helped along, in part, by positive comments they've received from the community.

"A lot of us have been to meetings, and a vast majority have been saying you don't want to wait a year -- you want to do it now," said Oberloh moments after Monday's meeting was adjourned.

The State Legislature granted Worthington permission to present a local option sales tax referendum to voters in 2006 for the purpose of building a community/events center and remodeling and upgrading Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center. The tax, if approved, would be placed upon items carrying a 6½-percent sales tax on them.

The Legislature has not guaranteed that Worthington would be allowed to wait until 2007 before presenting the referendum.

On Monday, the Council briefly debated how the referendum might be presented to city residents.

"How specific does our plan have to be? Can it be generic? I don't think we have to get down to the color of the paint or brick on the wall," said Oberloh, who maintained that the school district does not appear to be opposed to a city sales tax vote this year.

After the meeting adjourned, councilmen agreed that a final decision should be made by June 1. Oberloh, with the school referendum in mind, struck an optimistic tone, saying, "I think by running them both at the same time will show what the community is made of."

In other action, the City Council:

- Considered the establishment of a puppy park, with a snow fence, on an experimental basis at First Avenue Southwest, west of the local Hospice facility. The park will be brought back to the council on May 22 as a formal item.

- Approved a donation of up to $4,900 to the Freedom Veterans Memorial Park Committee to be used toward the purchase of flag poles.

- Heard from Worthington Police Department Detective Sergeant Kevin Flynn, who announced a $28,300 state grant for a two-year Citizens Academy project expanding citizen academic participation. The grant will be used, Flynn said, to encourage greater minority participation in an eight-week program informing and interpreting police practices and laws.

- Heard from Councilman Bob Petrich on the recent hiring of Utilities Coordinator Scott Hain as Water and Light Commission General Manager, replacing the retiring Don Habicht. "Without a doubt in my mind, we did hire the right man," said Petrich, who described Hain as easily the most qualified candidate.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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