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Local option sales tax provides $13.6 million for projects

WILLMAR — Willmar’s local option sales tax provided $13.6 million in revenue for city projects after state administrative costs were subtracted, according to a report by City Finance Director Steve Okins.

The report was presented this week to the City Council’s Finance Committee.

Sales tax collection began Jan. 1, 2006, and expired at the end of 2012. Revenue totaled $13.9 million. Minnesota Department of Revenue administrative fees subtracted approximately $300,000, leaving $13.6 million.

The seven-year sales tax was approved by voters Nov. 2, 2004. The referendum question authorized four projects:

- Expand and develop the industrial park at the old airport site.

- Biking and hiking trails.

- Connect the Civic Center and Blue Line ice arena.

- Buy approximately 60 acres of former Willmar Regional Treatment Center land for park purposes.

The projects were estimated at $8 million: $7 million for the industrial park; $400,000 for trails; $300,000 for the treatment center land; and $300,000 for the Civic Center/Blue Line connection.

The referendum question said the tax expires upon payment of all bonded indebtedness issued to finance the projects anticipated to be seven years from the date of implementation.

Rather than issue bonded indebtedness, projected in 2005 to cost $10,681,146 (principal and interest to retire $8 million in debt), the City Council paid cash for the projects.

From 2006 through 2013, the city spent $7.9 million as follows: $6.2 million on the industrial park; $600,000 on biking and hiking trails; and $1.1 million on the Civic Center/Blue Line connection. The state land was not purchased.

Spending for those projects left a balance of $5.7 million.

This year the city proposes spending the balance two ways: capital improvements and additional street improvements.

Budgeted capital improvements are:

- Civic Center (estimated cost of heating, ventilation and air conditioning): $1.07 million.

- Industrial park (additional streets and infrastructure development): $3.5 million.

- Bike paths: $35,000.

The additional street improvements are:

- Industrial park (Willmar Avenue Southwest): $271,900.

- Lighting for Willmar Avenue Southwest through industrial park: $58,190.

- Land valuation appraisals and easements for Lakeland Drive bike path: $70,000.

Committee Chairman Denis Anderson praised the report.

“To me this is a good summary,’’ he said.

An uncommitted balance of $700,000 remains to date after all projects are accounted. Okins recommended, and the committee voted to approve, the council re-appropriate the uncommitted balance back to the industrial development fund because industrial development/airport redevelopment was one of the authorized projects.

In an interview, Okins said the uncommitted balance could be used for anything.

“Technically, once the tax expired, the council could use any excess sales tax collected for anything they wanted to,’’ he said. “But the council at the time made the commitment that (the funds) should stay for the four projects.’’

In other business, the committee approved a motion supporting naming rights at the proposed Robbins Island Amphitheater. Naming rights for the privately-funded amphitheater were proposed to the committee by Bob Mathiasen, community fundraising chair.

The committee supported the naming rights, but stipulated that 50 percent of the project cost be had to be raised in cash prior to the start of construction.

Mathiasen proposed naming rights and dollar amounts for the amphitheater, stage, patio/dance floor, front row seating and two viewing rows.

Naming rights were also proposed in the categories of pillar, standing ovation, bravo, encore, applause and take-a-bow.

Also, the committee voted to renew the five-year lease of Baker Diamond-Taunton Stadium by Northwoods League Inc. and Willmar Baseball LLC (the Stingers), from Aug. 25, 2014, to Aug. 25, 2019. The rental rates total $150,120 plus playoff rentals if applicable.

The current five-year lease expires this year, said City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday.

The council will consider the recommendations next Monday night.

Here is how the city spent $7.9 million in local option sales tax revenue from 2006 through 2013 on the four authorized projects (list does not include funding for projects budgeted for 2014):

Industrial park redevelopment/airport: $6.2 million

Relocation of the airport

Extension of County Road 5

Western sewer collector

Willmar Avenue quiet zone and Fourth Avenue

Industrial land reclamation

Hiking and biking trails: $.6 million

Civic Center (First Street to Transportation Road)

Waterview Business Park (28th Avenue Southeast to 19th Avenue Southeast)

Fifth Street Southeast (19th Avenue Southeast to 630 feet south of Willmar Avenue Southeast)

County Road 5 (State Highway 40 to U.S. Highway 12)

Lakeland Drive (YMCA driveway to Olena Avenue Southeast)

North U.S. Highway 71 (13th Avenue Northeast to 23rd Street Northeast)

Willmar Avenue (22nd Street Southwest to 18th Street Southwest)

County Road 41 (15th Avenue Northwest to Eagles Landing)

County Road 41 (County Road 41 to the golf course)

Robbins Island (north part of the island to First Street Northeast/County Road 41)

Willmar Avenue (22nd Street Southwest to 515 feet west of 18th Street Southwest)

Orange Field trail head

60 acres Willmar Regional Treatment Center land $.0

Civic Center/Blue Line Arena connection $1.1 million

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150