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Willmar awaits state approval of sales tax

WILLMAR -- The voter-approved Invest in Willmar local option sales tax will raise an estimated $30 million over 13 years for multiple community projects.

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A file photo of a storm water pond in a business development in southeast Willmar.

WILLMAR - The voter-approved Invest in Willmar local option sales tax will raise an estimated $30 million over 13 years for multiple community projects.

These projects - a new recreation and events center, additional recreation fields, upgrades to Robbins Island and Swansson Field, stormwater improvements and a new community center - will add to the amenities the city offers its current and future residents as well as visitors.

While 61.06 percent of Willmar voters who answered the local option sales tax question on the November ballot voted in the affirmative, the city is still waiting for final approval from the state Legislature. Until that comes, the planning that can be done on the six project areas is limited.

Until that time, the council is putting into a place a procedure to follow once the projects start moving. At Tuesday's council meeting, appointments to six project subcommittees and to the Invest in Willmar board were approved. These committees lay the groundwork on each of the six projects to be financed by the local option sales tax. Committee recommendations will then go to the Invest in Willmar board.

Each of the subcommittees will have one council representative. Julie Asmus will serve on the community center committee, Kathy Schwantes on stormwater and Fernando Alvarado was appointed to the subcommittee for Robbins Island. Vicki Davis was chosen for the events center subcommittee, Rick Fagerlie for Swansson Field and Andrew Plowman will represent the council on the athletic fields subcommittee.

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The Invest in Willmar Steering Committee is still working on finding the other members for the subcommittees, steering committee member Mary Sawatzky said. The idea is to find community members with an interest in the projects. The tentative number of people to serve on each subcommittee is seven.

Audrey Nelsen and Shawn Mueske were appointed to serve on the Invest in Willmar board. A citizen representative, Denis Anderson, and a representative from the city's business community, Bob Poe Jr., were also appointed. Other members of the Invest in Willmar steering committee, which began the entire sales tax process, will also be on the board. Mayor Marv Calvin and City Administrator Ike Holland will be non-voting participants on the Invest in Willmar board.

Once the Invest in Willmar board recommends a project, it will go the city's Park and Recreation board, or for the stormwater projects it will go to Public Works. Those boards will then decide whether the projects are complete enough to go in front of the City Council for final approval. Only when the council gives its approval will any construction begin.

State Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said he expects the Legislature to vote on the local option sales tax bill sometime in March or April. In an interview with the West Central Tribune, Baker said there are 20 to 30 local option sales tax questions going before the Legislature this session and they most likely will all be part of a larger omnibus bill.

"What the Legislature does is make sure to verify the numbers," Baker said.

Baker, along with State Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, have already started working on crafting the language for Willmar's tax.

"It is my job, and Sen. Lang's job, to create a bill that mirrors that ordinance" passed by the city, Baker said. "Bottom line, it can't go more than 13 years or $30 million."

Both the state House of Representatives and the Senate will need to approve the bill. It will then go to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz for his signature. If all goes as planned, tax revenue could start to be collected by July.

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"I expect this to go well," Baker said.

Baker is grateful for all the work the Invest in Willmar steering committee did and is doing in regard to the sales tax and its projects.

"We need to make sure our citizens get to drive this bus," Baker said. "That is what makes our community so amazing. The drive to get things done. Our community has really learned to collaborate and work together."

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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