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FULL STORY: Council finalizes list of sales tax projects

WORTHINGTON -- The final list is here. The Worthington City Council on Thursday agreed on the projects to be funded by the next local-option half-percent sales tax, which -- if passed by voters this November and approved by the Minnesota Legislat...

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WORTHINGTON - The final list is here.

The Worthington City Council on Thursday agreed on the projects to be funded by the next local-option half-percent sales tax, which - if passed by voters this November and approved by the Minnesota Legislature - would go into effect in 2020. It effectively replaces the current tax that expires this year.

The council is expected to call for a November referendum at its July 9 meeting.

The complete list of intended projects, adding up to an estimated $20 million, is below. Alongside each project is the estimated cost, which could differ significantly once bids are administered.

  • Outdoor aquatic center and water park ($4.5 million)
  • Field house and recreation center ($3 million)
  • Park and recreation improvements, including a privately operated lakeside restaurant and marina at Ehlers Park ($5.4 million)
  • Lake Okabena water quality improvements, including dredging Sunset Bay ($4.2 million)
  • Improvements to the 10th Street farmers market parking lot, including repaving, landscaping and public bathrooms ($700,000)
  • Improvements to the Worthington Ice Arena ($2.2 million)

The half-percent sales tax would last 15 years and support a bond of approximately $20 million, based on the city’s predictions for spending growth over that time. Once passed, the city would bond for the money and begin work soon after.
The council had been looking to build a pavilion - for festivals, events and concerts - on the 10th Street farmers market parking lot, but found that the $1.8 million price tag was both high and potentially inaccurate. The council instead committed $700,000 to repave the badly damaged parking lot and install bathrooms, noting that funds for a pavilion could come from other sources, such as the community growth fund.

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There are several specifics still to be worked out, such as where the outdoor aquatic center will be located and exactly what improvements will be made the to ice arena. The council does not need to go deep into specifics for the measure to pass the legislature.

The city’s initial local option sales tax - which paid for construction of the Worthington Event Center, renovations at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center and (later) the reconstruction of Buss Field - was enacted by the legislature in 2008. It passed with 60 percent of the vote.

Survey provides insight The council heard a presentation from Logan Ahlers of Regional Activity Development (RAD), a group of young people looking to improve amenities in the Worthington area. A recent online survey from RAD, which polled 448 people of all age groups, asked respondents to rank the six proposed projects in order of importance.

The outdoor aquatic center came in first, followed by Ehlers Park improvements, field house, Lake Okabena improvements, 10th Street Pavilion and ice arena improvements.

The largest demographic of respondents were people ages 29-39 (33 percent) and 18-28 (24.6 percent).

“This is why RAD is a thing,” Ahlers said. “Fifty-seven percent of people who took this survey are 18 to 39 years old. Young people are very much invested in trying to make our community a better place.”

Crucially, 83 percent of respondents said they would vote for a referendum to raise sales taxes by a half-percent to build the listed projects. Ahlers noted that the wording on the question was misleading - making it seem like it was an additional tax rather than a replacement for the outgoing half-percent sales tax.

“That many people saying they would vote for it, even with that bad wording … that’s a good sign for the referendum,” Ahlers said.

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The preferred projects shifted slightly based on the age group. Among those aged 62-72, water quality improvements jumped up to the top priority.

Of open-ended responses on what people would like to see, a bowling alley topped the list with 108 responses. Next in line were restaurants (61), places to shop (57) and mini golf (33).

 

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