Willmar council gives green light to Swansson Field project
Two weeks after pausing work on most of the projects to be funded by the voter-approved Invest in Willmar local option sales tax, the Willmar City Council on June 1 approved allowing the project at the Swansson Field Recreation Complex to move forward at its original budget. The vote comes after receiving a request from the sales tax board, which said the Swansson Field project was its top priority.
WILLMAR — Swansson Field Recreation Complex in Willmar will get its upgrade, as the Willmar City Council approved a motion at Monday's meeting to allow work to continue on the project funded by the local option sales tax.
"We've got to get that one going," said Councilor Rick Fagerlie.
The motion also allowed the project to be completed at its original budget of $2 million.
The City Council at its May 18 meeting had stopped all work on most projects to be funded by the voter-approved Invest in Willmar local option sales tax due to funding concerns. At the time, only a Robbins Island project was allowed to continue.
Revenue collected from the voter-approved 0.5 percent sales tax, which would make the payments for the bonds used to initially fund the six different projects, has been significantly lower than expected, by almost a third. The worry is that not enough revenue will be raised over the next 13 years to pay for the $30 million in projects.
The Invest in Willmar Local Option Sales Tax board met May 20 to discuss the action taken by the City Council and requested the council also allow work to continue on Swansson Field, which is nearing the completion of its design phase and should be ready to start construction this fall. The project will include turning Elsie Klemmetson Memorial Field-Orange Field into a stadium along with improvements to the other fields, new restrooms, a small shelter and a playground near the softball fields.
"The underlying principal was to look at projects that could take the next step that didn't involve additional labor, additional utilities, additional costs to the city, and Swansson Field fit that bill," said City Administrator Brian Gramentz.
The sales tax board at future meetings will work on prioritizing the plans for the athletic fields and the recreation and events center. Design work on the community center — along with the proposed possible city hall project that would be co-located at the community center site though it is not funded by the sales tax — was also put on hold by the City Council. What will happen to any future sales tax-funded stormwater projects was not thoroughly discussed at the meetings.
The sales tax board also wants to plan and build the projects at their voter-approved budget levels — $10 million for a recreation and event center, $6 million for recreation fields, $3 million for Robbins Island, $2 million for Swansson Field, $2 million for the community center and $7 million for stormwater improvements.
"They decided doing justice to each of the projects until the money runs out is probably the direction they were headed at," Gramentz said.
The City Council had discussed cutting the budgets by one-third, something the sales tax board did not approve of.
"The idea of 67 percent projects, there was not an appetite for that," said Councilor Shawn Mueske.
The approval to allow the Swansson Field project to continue will also allow the new field lights to be installed.
Rob Baumgarn, Parks and Recreation Director, said the city had approved a contract in December with Musco Sports Lighting to replace some of the lighting at the fields.
Installation has been delayed until the project plans were finalized and the exact location of the new lights was decided. The contract locked in 2019 prices for 2020.
"We are just finalizing what field that is going to be on," Baumgarn said. "Musco Lighting is chomping at the bit to get those lights here."