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Willmar School Board adopts tax levy and passes, for now, on proposal to develop turf field near Willmar Civic Center

The Willmar School Board adopted a property tax levy to be paid next year that is about 1% less than the levy this year. The board asked that a proposal to develop a football stadium on a new turf field near the Willmar Civic Center be presented to the city of Willmar instead.

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This rendering of the recreation complex being developed at the Willmar Civic Center shows a track and football stadium development and a bubble over a soccer field. The improvements were suggested to the Willmar School Board Monday, but the board suggested the idea should be brought to the city of Willmar first. Submitted
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Editor's note: A statement from Willmar School Board member Jay Lawton, r egarding the possibility of the school district and the city of Willmar working together on a project, was misunderstood Monday night and not accurately reflected in the original publication of this story. L awton later told the West Central Tribune what he said, and t hat portion of the story has now been corrected.

WILLMAR — The property tax levy that funds Willmar Public Schools will decrease 1% in the next year.

The Willmar School Board voted at its meeting Monday to adopt the levy, following its Truth-in-Taxation public hearing.

The board also heard a presentation about possibly developing a full football stadium at the new turf football field between the Willmar Civic Center and Willmar Senior High School .

Kathryn Haase, director of business and finance, led the board through a review of the property tax levy. No one from the public attended the hearing, which state law requires the district to conduct.

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Haase explained that the school tax is just one part of an overall property tax bill, which also includes county, city or township and other special categories of taxes.

The state controls nearly every aspect of schools’ property tax levies, she said.

The levy to be paid in 2022 is $8.1 million. The levy paid in 2022 will fund the 2022-23 school year.

The new levy represents a decrease of about $84,000 from the levy paid this year. The decrease comes in part from the end of two tax abatements for local businesses, Haase said.

Total revenue for the current school year is expected to be $67.6 million. The 2022 levy includes $3.9 million for the general fund, which funds daily operation of the school district, $3.6 million for payments on outstanding construction bonds approved by voters, $375,000 for community education, and $121,000 for a local operating referendum.

Total general fund revenue is about $58 million a year. Most revenue, about 83.5%, comes from state aid payments.

The board on Monday also heard from Dr. Tony Amon, who asked if the board had an interest in further development around the new turf fields near the high school and Civic Center.

The fields have been funded by the Willmar sales tax.

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Amon presented digital renderings of what the area could look like with a track around the football field, plus bleachers, restrooms, concessions and press boxes to allow high school games to be played there. The renderings also included a bubble over the soccer field.

Preliminary cost estimates indicated the football stadium improvements could cost between $1 million and $2 million.

The school district currently uses football and soccer fields near Kennedy Elementary School , which is the former Willmar High School site.

The Hodapp Field complex is in need of updating and is inadequate in several ways, Amon said.

Without locker rooms at Kennedy, Willmar teams dress at the high school and are bused to their home games, he said. Without lights, soccer teams are limited to playing during daylight hours.

Most schools in Willmar’s conference have turf fields, which are safer, he said.

For track and field, “kids from the high school are driving to Kennedy at dismissal time,” Amon said.

Board members pointed out that the school district does not own the land the fields are on.

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Board member Tammy Barnes said she was concerned about school district funding being used on city property.

Amon suggested that the city and school could reach an agreement to work together on such a project.

Board member Jay Lawton said he thought the plan was a great idea, but he didn’t share Amon’s confidence in the City Council after it recently adopted a tax levy for a new city hall for which there is no site selected and no final plan.

Barnes added that she wasn’t sure where the district would get the funding to do the work.

Board Chairman Mike Reynolds said he would prefer that the city had contacted the board. He asked Amon to speak with the city about his proposal and ask the city to approach the district.

“No one is saying they’re not interested in it,” he said.

Reynolds said initial contact would probably be between School Board and City Council committees.

In other business, Haase provided an enrollment update. The district currently has 4,218 students in grades K-12, she said. That’s 50 more than in the same week last year but still less than pre-pandemic enrollment.

Editor's note: A comment by board member Jay Lawton has been edited to clarify his position on working with the Willmar City Council. He said his lack of confidence in the city's involvement with a potential football stadium came from the City Council's decision to approve a tax levy for a new city hall without a site selected or a final plan for it.

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Related Topics: EDUCATIONMINNESOTAWILLMAR CITY COUNCILWILLMARWILLMAR CARDINALSNEW WILLMAR CARDINALS NEW
In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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