Invest in Willmar sales tax board wants Swansson Field project to go forward
The Invest in Willmar Local Option Sales Tax Board is requesting the Willmar City Council allow the project at Swansson Field to continue, as plans and specifications are nearly completed. The board also said following Robbins Island, the improvements at Swansson Field is its top priority project.
WILLMAR — Two days after the Willmar City Council paused work on most of the local option sales tax projects, the Invest in Willmar board formally requested the council allow work to continue on Swansson Field.
"I see this as just a step behind Robbins Island" in terms of being ready for construction, said Mary Sawatzky, who sits on both the Invest in Willmar board and the Swansson Field subcommittee, at Wednesday's board meeting.
The sales tax board is also requesting the Swansson Field project be funded at its full level of $2 million. The board hopes to fund all the projects at their voter-approved level going forward, even if that means some projects have to wait a few years.
"Whatever we do, we need to stick to our original plan to do it in the best possible way," said board member Bob Poe.
The City Council allowed the pavement improvements at Robbins Island to go out for bids, though the new shelters, which were alternates in the approved plans, have been removed. The construction cost for the project is approximately $2 million. The total project, including construction contingency, administrative costs and testing, would cost closer to $2.5 million
The voter-approved sales tax projects and budgets, approved in November 2018, were $10 million for a recreation and event center, $6 million for recreation fields, $3 million for Robbins Island, $2 million for Swansson Field and $7 million for stormwater improvements.
There is also $2 million for the community center, which has been joined with the proposed city hall project with a total budget of $10.5 million. The council also stopped work on the city hall project Monday night, at least until decisions are made on how to pay for it.
"I see it sitting out there for at least a couple of years for sure," said Councilor Shawn Mueske at Wednesday's meeting.
Sawatzky said the Swansson Field project is close to having its design completed. Upgrades include turning Elsie Klemmetson Memorial Field, also known as Orange Field, into a stadium along with improvements to the other fields, restrooms and a small shelter and playground near the softball fields.
While the sales tax board hopes to have construction begin on both Robbins Island and Swansson Field this year, the future of the other projects is murky.
Revenue from the collection of the 0.5 percent voter-approved sales tax has been significantly below expectations. The city had hoped to collect $250,000 a month, but from October through December only $531,694 was collected.
The city won't know what the revenue collections from the first quarter of 2020 are for some time, and the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown will not help matters going into the summer. While no one expects retail sales to drop to zero, using conservative estimates, the city most likely will not collect enough money in 13 years to pay for $30 million worth of projects.
"We anticipate getting two-thirds," City Administrator Brian Gramentz said. "What do you want to do with that?"
The council is giving the sales tax board and its subcommittees the responsibility of deciding project priorities. Gramentz said the city could bond for projects as they come up, instead of in just one big lump sum. This could make it easier to complete all the projects and for the city to pay for it.
"We know we can't spend money we don't have," said Tony Amon, board member.
The board did not decide on a project priority list at Wednesday's meeting. The feeling was there is plenty of time to prioritize now that the board has acted on both Robbins Island and Swansson Field. The council will consider the board's requests regarding Swansson Field at the June 1 council meeting.
"Your actual prioritization of the remainder of the projects can take as long as you want to take," said Gramentz.