Movie theater, sales tax plan among council forum topics

WORTHINGTON -- The potential for a new movie theater and the proposed local option half-cent sales tax were among the topics broached Tuesday night at a Worthington City Council candidates forum hosted by the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce ...

Ryan Weber (second from right) addresses the crowd Tuesday night during the Worthington City Council candidates forum as fellow candidates (from left) Larry Janssen, Chris Kielblock, Rod Sankey and Mike Harmon look on. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - The potential for a new movie theater and the proposed local option half-cent sales tax were among the topics broached Tuesday night at a Worthington City Council candidates forum hosted by the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee.


Larry Janssen, who is seeking re-election to his Ward 1 council seat, said he supports both the sales tax and how the theater is currently proposed.


“Once in a while on a council like this, you do need to step out of the box,” Janssen said. “I think of Worthington as a regional center. Yes, I understand it’s tough to put up a theater, and the gentlemen who are looking at doing that, probably don’t have the capital to put up the building or buy the property. I think the city can play an important role there, and perhaps they’ll buy it. Hopefully, it goes over big, and they’ll go with it, so yes I would cast a vote in favor of that.”



Ward 1 challenger Chris Kielblock, is in favor of a theater, but with a catch.


“It’s not the city’s job to run a movie theater, but what we can do is help facilitate a movie theater coming to town,” Kielblock explained. “I think that part of the plan that has come up lately is that we build a facility and lease it out to an operator, or bring in an operator of a movie theater, and I think that’s a great compromise.


“it’s just a matter of getting the right operator, and people at the table, and right location in our town to make it more feasible and acceptable for our city occupants and to enjoy the amenity,” Kielblock added.


Rod Sankey, a former city council member who is hoping to again represent Ward 1, differed in opinion from his opponents.



“I believe the movie theater is not a need for the city residents; it’s a want item,” Sankey said. “In the process of reading what’s proposed, I do not see anything about a lease agreement - just that he [the operator] will come in and provide movies. This man has stated many times that he doesn’t want to own the building - he just wants to lease the building and have his equipment in it.


“So let’s just say in two years there is no money provided, and the business isn’t paying for itself. You know, he could pack up and leave. It’s a want, and not something the city needs.”


Ward 2 council candidate Mike Harmon, who like Janssen is seeking re-election to a second four-year term, said he supported a public/private partnership to get a theater built.


“The city has meet with at least three different focus groups, all of which have put a movie theater in Worthington as their No. 1 amenity,” Harmon said. “I think a movie theater in Worthington will have to be a combination of both private and public interests, and private and public money.



“Right now, the people with the people we are working with the city would construct a facility,” Harmon continued, “and the current people we are working with have expressed in interests in purchasing the building in three years once they have a track record, and a positive cash flow, that they could take to a local bank to finance the purchase.”


Ward 2 challenger Ryan Weber expressed opposition to spending city money in the private sector.


“I would not be in favor of the way it sits right now,” he stated. “They must construct that facility in a way that something other than a movie theater can be in there. So if the city decides to invest tax payer money in a building, that building must be multipurpose with minimal infrastructure cost to put another business in that building.”

Meanwhile, the candidates addressed the local option sales tax proposal that will come before voters Nov. 6. The city estimates the tax would collect $25 million over its 15-year period, allowing a $20 million bond for multiple projects that include: an outdoor aquatic center and water park; a field house and recreation center; park and recreation improvements, including a privately-operated lakeside restaurant and marina at Ehlers Park; Lake Okabena water quality improvements; improvements to the 10th Street Farmers Market; and improvements to the Worthington Ice Arena.


Sankey expressed his thorough opposition to the sales tax proposal, noting that “the sales tax was an issue that was supposed to expire” and his belief “that it would be a step toward a socialistic government.” Meanwhile, Janssen, Kielblock, Harmon and Weber all supported the measure, which requires approval from the Minnesota Legislature after local passage in order to take effect.


“I think any tax based on consumption is the fairest tax that there is for people,” Harmon said. “I think the records would show the proceeds reflected in the last half-cent sales tax ... approximately 40 percent came from out of town. I think it’s necessary to draw people to town, and also to help keep people in town.


“We have a problem losing a lot of our young people because of a lack of things for them to do.  I would be in favor of a half-cent sales tax.”


“I think the half-cent sales tax is a great thing,” Weber concurred. “The city council identified five projects that need addressing. Those are projects that bring people to the city, which then those people pay the sales tax. So I ‘ more in favor of the half-cent sales tax, because everyone pays their fair share. The more you spend, the more you pay.”


Kielblock supports the sales tax as a passive way to collect funding for projects.


“I like to look at Rapid City (S.D.) as an example … since 1995 they’ve had a sales tax for really the same reason why we want the half-cent sales tax in our city,” Kielblock explained. “From projects large and small, I believe our community can benefit from the half-cent sales tax like we have in previous years.”


Janssen said the sales tax has done a lot for the community in the past years.


“I think the new one will do the same, and I think some of the stuff that they have pinpointed here is very important and I think everyone is going to share in that,” he said.


An additional topic that came up during Tuesday’s forum centered upon the health of Lake Okabena.


“There are some issues; it’s not very deep,” Weber said. “Dredging is probably going to have to happen. There’s incoming water that’s coming from farm fields carrying chemical runoff, and it’s always going to come with heavy rain. The half-cent sales tax addresses it; that’s a start. There should be a budget line item every year for the lake.”


Another subject highlighted was the ongoing Nobles Home Initiative, a tax abatement program currently made possible by participation of the city, Nobles County and District 518.


“I think that’s one of the best programs that’s come out of the county and school and city of Worthington,” Sankey said. “There is going to be a dramatic increase of homes built, and that’s what we need in the city. We also need starter homes. I think that’s a great deal, and I’m glad to see that renewed for another five years.”


Janssen stated the concern that there’s too much of hassle to open a business in Worthington.


“If they can afford it, they should be able to do it as long as it meets everything else the community is saying,” he said. “That would be one way of moving it along faster. Otherwise, I believe that’s probably the reason they don’t expand in Worthington - it’s probably too much of a hassle to come out and get all this stuff done. If you go broke, you can spank yourself - not us.”

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