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Opinion: Willmar's local option sales tax plan has worthy projects

After several months of study and debate, the Willmar City Council has decided to place a new local option sales tax before the voters on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The final proposal has a $10 million target plus finance costs for specific projects for improvements to Robbins Island, the Willmar Civic Center and the Swansson Field Complex.

If approved, the sales tax would be a half of 1 percent on all eligible sales and services within the city of Willmar plus a $20 excise tax on all retail sales of vehicles in WIllmar. With the excise tax, vehicle sales would not be charged the sales tax.

All the proposed projects are considered to have regional significance. This is important when a proposed local option sales tax is considered by the Minnesota Legislature for approval.

If approved by the Willmar voters in November and later by the Minnesota Legislature, this local option sales tax would specified to fund the following:

• $4 million for Robbins Island improvements, including roads, trails and parking lots.

• $3 million for Civic Center improvements, including replacing the refrigeration system for ice.

• $3 for Swansson Field improvements, including upgrades to the lighting system.

The proposed half percent sales tax would raise an estimated $2.2 million per year.

This sales tax proposal would provide a revenue source to pay for badly needed improvements at the three Willmar destinations utilized by both city and regional residents and visitors.

In addition, this needed revenue source would help provide the critical improvements without having to significantly impact Willmar property taxes.

Robbins Island improvements would help expand the role of the site within Willmar and also create more attractions to the Business 71 North corridor.

Swansson Field is a fine athletic complex, but improvements will help make the southwest Willmar complex a top sports attraction for the city and the region.

The Civic Center is also a good athletic and entertainment site, but improvements would make it even better.

All three sites provide opportunities for Willmar and regional events as well as meet needs of Willmar residents and visitors from the region.

The City Council, Mayor Calvin and city staff are to be commended for studying the sales tax issue as well as the needs of the city.

Their proposal is prudent in its selection of projects and their scopes and that the proposal meets the city's critical needs. There are improvement needs around the city, but this proposal is limited to these three primary projects for a total of $10 million.

As Mayor Calvin said, "Willmar is going to be a better place because of this local option sales tax."

With the City Council's proposal, the next step goes before the Willmar voters in November.