WILLMAR - A group of Willmar residents has begun the early work to put a half-cent local option sales tax question on the November ballot.
"For our city to continue to be a regional center, we have to do this," said Dr. Anthony Amon, one of the leaders of the citizen-driven sales tax push.
Amon, along with Matt Dawson and Jon Konold, spoke about their idea for a local options sales tax during the public forum of Monday's Willmar City Council meeting, explaining how much the tax would be and what projects they hope to finance.
The proposed sales tax would be half of 1 percent for 20 years and raise approximately $50 million. In Minnesota, gas, food and clothes are not taxed.
Everyone who makes eligible purchases in Willmar would be charged the sales tax. This means all those who use Willmar's facilities will help improve them.
"As many people who live in Willmar also work in Willmar," Amon said, which would drastically increase the number of people who would be pay the sales tax.
The group hopes to use the money raised to fund stormwater and infrastructure projects, a large project at the Civic Center and updating and adding to city parks.
"I don't think these are wants. These are needs for our community," Amon said.
Amon said it's important to tackle the stormwater and infrastructure so there is a solid foundation for people to come to Willmar.
"If we don't, why would people move to Willmar, buy a house?" Amon asked.
Nearly half of the estimated sales tax revenue would go toward infrastructure and stormwater projects. The rest would be for the Civic Center and park projects including Robbins Island and Swansson Field.
Amon said the sales tax group is waiting for the city to complete its master plans for the Civic Center and Robbins Island before making any firm commitments on those projects. However, they do have some ideas.
At the Civic Center, they would like to see the facility expanded to a multi-sport complex with fields for football, soccer, baseball and golf in addition to the current ice rinks. One of the turf fields could be covered with a dome to increase use. Other ideas included tennis courts, an indoor playground, a outdoor refrigerated rink and perhaps even moving the community center out to the facility.
"Bring the entire community together at the Civic Center," Amon said.
Creating such a facility could also mean more tournaments and events being held in Willmar, which would increase the amount of business being done and money being spent in the city.
"That is going to keep our hotels busy, our restaurants busy," Amon said.
Additional park improvements could include upgrading Orange Stadium at Swansson Field, along with putting in new bathroom facilities, landscaping, concessions and adding a practice field. There are also all the new upgrades already being proposed for Robbins Island which could benefit from sales tax funding.
"Realistically, to get a local option sales tax, you need to appeal to a wide demographic. A huge range of ages can benefit from this," Amon said.
Amon believes a mix of projects like what the group is proposing will make a local option sales tax more palatable and will allow Willmar to continue to adapt and grow as a regional center.
"This has a nice balance of basic things a city should do and a step up on what the city can provide its citizens," Amon said.
Whether citizens will see the local option sales tax on the fall ballot depends on the City Council. Amon hopes his group is invited back to a council work session in the next month to fully present information about their ideas. The master plans for the Civic Center and Robbins Island are also scheduled to be presented within the next few meetings.
To get the sales tax question on the ballot, the City Council will need to approve a resolution to propose the tax. This resolution must be passed no later than 90 days before the general election, which is Aug. 8 this year.
If voters approve the tax, it then goes to the state Legislature, which will have the final say in whether the tax is implemented.
While the sales tax group has not yet officially made a request to the City Council, at least one council member has spoken publicly in favor of the group's mission.
"I want to encourage the citizens group that wants to pursue a sales tax. WIllmar needs that. Our competition, the other communities that have it, they are blowing by us," Councilor Fernando Alvarado said Tuesday during a joint work session of the City Council and WIllmar Municipal Utilities Commission. "If there is a group that wants to take the ball and run with it, I think we have to encourage that and support them."