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Terms worked out for Worthington’s next sales tax

WORTHINGTON — Members of the Worthington City Council on Wednesday decided the terms for its next local option sales tax, although the final list of projects is still in the works.

Council members agreed upon a half-percent sales tax that lasts 15 years. Assuming an average annual growth in sales tax collections of five percent, council members expect to collect approximately $25 million over the life of the tax, providing bonding capacity of $20 million to spend on projects.

The city’s current half-percent sales tax, which expires this year, experienced average annual growth of roughly 7 percent from 2009 to 2017. The annual collection figures fluctuated wildly year by year, ranging from from a 1.5 percent decrease in 2013 to 17.7 percent growth in 2017.

During its July 9 meeting, the council is expected to call for a local option sales tax referendum for the November election. At that point, council members must have their final list of projects nailed down.

As for that list, council members generally agreed on four projects that should make the cut — an indoor sports and recreation center (fieldhouse), outdoor swimming pool, water quality improvements to Sunset Bay and remodeling Ehlers Park to make room for a city-owned, privately operated marina and lakeside restaurant. The rough cost estimate for the four projects is just over $16 million.

The council is also considering making improvements to the ice arena and constructing a pavilion in the farmers market parking lot, but council members have reservations about both.

Replacing the old ice and ancient refrigeration system at the ice arena would allow the rink to stay open later in the year and potentially host regional tournaments, but it would also cost north of $2 million.

Council members Chad Cummings and Alan Oberloh agreed the city should consider taking over control of the facility from the Worthington Hockey Association before allocating money to it. The council agreed a member needs to meet with the association and hear its plans.

Council members expressed frustration at the cost of the 10th Street pavilion — which would primarily be used for festivals, concerts and the farmers market — and particularly the exorbitant cost of building bathrooms.

Councilwoman Amy Ernst said the cost to “do it right” — which includes repaving the parking lot, installing the pavilion and building bathrooms — is $1.8 million. The council’s community growth subcommittee will meet to discuss the future of the project.

Council members agreed not to commit funds to the Nobles County Historical Society’s potential move to the Armory Business Center, as Nobles County has not given away the building yet.

Also during the meeting, the council heard from Logan Ahlers, head of Regional Activity Development (RAD), a group of young area residents who want to improve Worthington by providing more things to do.

Ahlers said RAD generally wants indoor entertainment and gathering points, as winter lasts much longer than summer in Worthington. The fieldhouse, lakeside restaurant and ice arena improvements check those boxes, he said, adding that support for the pavilion was lukewarm.

Assuming the sales tax passes in November (the first tax passed with 60 percent of the vote) and is approved by the Minnesota Legislature the following spring, it would have a January 2020 starting date.

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