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City narrows down its wish list for new sales tax projects

WORTHINGTON -- As the Worthington City Council prepares to authorize a voter referendum on a new half-cent sales tax, it's still narrowing down its list of projects on which to spend the money.

WORTHINGTON - As the Worthington City Council prepares to authorize a voter referendum on a new half-cent sales tax, it’s still narrowing down its list of projects on which to spend the money.

The city’s preliminary list, which will be presented to both Worthington voters and the legislature when finalized, includes a field house recreational facility, improvements to the outdoor swimming pool and the ice arena, lakefront improvements and a marina, a new public works facility, new outdoor athletic facilities and extensions to walking and biking trails.
The proposed multi-purpose entertainment facility, including a movie theater and bowling alley, has been taken off the wishlist. Rep. Greg Davids, chair of the House Taxes Committee, said the list looked good, but the entertainment center would not fly, as it not well-enough defined to pass through the committee, according to City Administrator Steve Robinson.

Robinson noted there are other avenues in which the city could pay for the entertainment center.

The city’s plan is to authorize a voter referendum in July and have voters make their choice on the Nov. 6 ballot. If approved, the sales tax would go to the legislature for final approval in early 2020.

City council members had requested that the new sales tax have no collection limit, but that likely be agreeable with the legislature. All of the new local option sales taxes passed in recent years had collection caps, Robinson said.

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Without factoring in a collection limit, the city could immediately bond for $16.5 million if a 15-year half-cent sales tax was approved, based on conservative growth estimates. Robinson recommended the city bond for the field house and public works projects ahead of time.

The former MC Fitness building, conditionally approved for purchase by the council earlier this month, may have uses as either a field house indoor sports facility or a new public works facility.

A new public works facility would free up space at Ehlers Park to build a marina, featuring a privately-operated restaurant or shop, along Lake Okabena.

Councilman Alan Oberloh suggested the city remove the trails from its list, as it can find funding from the state for the project. Councilwoman Amy Ernst questioned the lack of daycare assistance on the list.

Council members were unsure how they could help with daycare. Robinson said building a new daycare facility wouldn’t solve the provider shortage, but noted he was still willing to list it as a priority.

The council will continue to discuss its list of projects in the coming weeks.

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