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City begins discussion on selling local option sales tax

WORTHINGTON -- The City of Worthington seems bent on offering a local option sales tax referendum to voters in November. So, now the focus is clear -- how should supporters sell the idea to tax-paying citizens?

"Their first thought would be, 'It's a tax increase; I'm not going to support it.' But if you show them what it's about, you can change their minds," Mayor Alan Oberloh said.

On Monday, the Worthington City Council hired Short Elliott Hendrickson (SEH) of Worthington to develop plans for a new community center building and an addition to Memorial Auditorium. With the passage of a local option sales tax, Worthington could locate a long-awaited community center at the existing Campbell Soup site, with a dividable multi-purpose room and 3,000 square feet of office space. A senior citizen center has been proposed for the expanded Memorial Auditorium site.

A referendum, said Oberloh, is the "fairest method" for funding. Half of the money raised through the half-cent levy would be raised from people living outside the immediate area, he said, and the improvements would benefit the entire region. The city could fund construction through property taxes, but that would only tax people living within the city limits.

"I think that, generally, people hate taxes," Oberloh said. "The reason you pay more taxes is there are things we want done. I think this is one of the fairest ways to pay for something of a regional nature -- which this would be."

For more than a decade, a new community center has been near the top of Worthington residents' wish list, the mayor said. When asked whether passage of the referendum depends upon a receptive senior vote, Oberloh expanded the question to include the entire voting community.

"We need the people who care about Worthington to come out and vote -- the people who truly care about the community," he said.

Interim City Administrator Bill Bassett said that without a good gathering place, senior groups are experiencing difficulty maintaining numbers. To encourage support from the Worthington community at large, he explained, "I think you have to make an honest case with people."

"If we give honest, accurate information, it will be up to the voters to decide if it is a need," Oberloh said. "What are we going to have in this community that are going to make people want to live here? I believe it's amenities."

A Chamber of Commerce committee will be formed to consider possible scenarios for redevelopment of the Campbell Soup site and upgrades to Memorial Auditorium. A broader community group is expected to be formed to include a Memorial Auditorium representative, a senior representative and any others willing to educate people about the proposed project. At this point, most city officials believe a community center could most logically be constructed at the Campbell Soup site, but all possibilities will be studied.

This year is the right year to propose the referendum, Oberloh said, because the next available opportunity won't arrive until 2008. Construction costs increase an estimated 30 percent each year, or more, the mayor added. By waiting two years, costs could double.

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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