East Grand Forks City Council members are set to vote on a new sales tax that could pay for all or some of a $32 million slate of Parks and Recreation projects, including a $24 million plan to revamp the city’s two aging ice arenas.
Council members informally agreed on Tuesday to vote next week on a resolution that would establish the basics of a new 2% sales tax and direct city staff to submit the proper paperwork to the Minnesota Legislature for the tax’s approval this spring. If council members approve that resolution at their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 21, it would be the first of three milestone votes needed to enact the new tax, which would still need to be OK'd by lawmakers in St. Paul and voters in East Grand Forks.
As it stands, the resolution includes four projects: $2.5 million worth of improvements to the baseball fields at Stauss, LaFave and Williams Parks; a $2.5 million plan to fix-up LaFave Park; $3 million to maintain and repave trails along the Greenway; and the ice arena proposal, which would add a second sheet of ice at the East Grand Forks Civic Center and turn the VFW Memorial Arena into a fieldhouse.
But, if it gets that far, that list could be pared down by voters, who would be asked to approve each project individually on their ballots.
Approving only some of the projects wouldn’t lessen the proposed tax, but it would make it end sooner because sales taxes in Minnesota expire after a certain period of time or when they hit a specific revenue figure, whichever comes first.
The 2% tax council members are set to vote on next week would take in up to $48.5 million or be in effect for up to 30 years. That dollar figure is the amount city staff estimate all four projects would cost after accounting for interest on the money they’d need to borrow to pay for them over 25 years. It assumes that the city will bring in a little less than $2 million per year in sales tax revenue.
East Grand Forks voters approved the city’s existing sales tax in 2016. Money from that tax pays off the loan the city took out to renovate a public pool at Sherlock Park.
The four East Grand Forks residents who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting -- including East Grand Forks School Board member Brandon Boespflug -- were all generally in favor of the new sales tax.
“I personally feel it’s my job to give back to this community, to keep it going for generations to come,” said Marla Wolfe, a lifelong Eastside resident and retired teacher. “I want to be proud. I do not want a Band-Aid approach.”
Council member Dale Helms, who has been consistently skeptical of the arena project’s price tag, insisted that the materials city staff submit to the Legislature not say that all East Grand Forks residents are in favor of the new tax.
“We’re going to be hiring more employees to run this thing because we ain’t got enough help. How are we going to get the money to pay for all that?” Helms asked rhetorically. “What’s going to happen is the sales tax is going to go through, if the sales tax goes through, to build this thing. Now the next thing that the council’s going to be doing that following year is we’re going to be raising property taxes again to help pay for everything.”