Want to tell East Grand Forks city staff how you feel about proposed renovations to the East Grand Forks Civic Center and VFW Memorial Arena? What about renovated ball fields, or Greenway trails, or a revamped LaFave Park? Want to learn more about any of those hoped-for projects?
East Grand Forks city leaders and consultants have scheduled a community forum and information session for 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, at the Civic Center, where it will coincide with a Green Wave boys section 8A playoff hockey game. Three more forums are tentatively scheduled for March 19, April 21, and June 18, but times and locations for those are still up in the air.
The purpose of those forums is to tell residents about -- and gauge their opinions of -- four parks and rec-minded projects, the largest of which is a $24 million proposal to, in effect, move the ice rink at the VFW Arena to the Civic Center and turn the VFW into an all-season fieldhouse. The three smaller-scale ones are a $3 million repair of the Greenway trails, $2.5 million worth of upgrades to city athletic fields, and another $2.5 million to replace a boat ramp and add more trails at LaFave.
Parks and Recreation Superintendent Reid Huttunen said that he’d report the results of the Feb. 20 forum to City Council members at a future meeting. The city is also readying a survey or two to gauge residents’ interest in those projects. Those surveys, Huttunen told the Herald, would be more in-depth than one city staff circulated in December.
Beyond that, Huttunen asked council members at their meeting on Tuesday to think about forming a task force or steering committee comprised of organizations and clubs that would use the fixed-up facilities.
City leaders have talked for months about raising private money to pay for a piece of the arena projects et al., and a task force could work to do that. The city also could hire a fundraising consultant.
Huttunen produced a rough list of 23 “stakeholders” who could serve on a task force, and that list will presumably grow as city leaders think about it more. Council members made no decision -- formal or otherwise -- about a task force or fundraising strategy on Tuesday.
City Council member Marc DeMers suggested that the council come up with a fundraising goal.
“We need to just come up with our expectation of what we feel needs to come from the private side fundraising effort,” he said. “If we’re only going to ask people to raise $100,000, then I don’t think it’s as big a deal, but if we are going to ask for 10 percent or 15 percent of the cost, then I think we need to get serious about how that organization looks.”
East Grand Forks is on track to pay for all or some of that $32 million list of projects with a new sales tax. City Council members last month formally asked Minnesota lawmakers, who reconvened on Tuesday in St. Paul, to approve a new sales tax here for that purpose.
As submitted to House and Senate tax committees, that new tax would tack 2 cents onto every dollar spent on most goods and services in East Grand Forks, but it would presumably only mean a 1 cent total increase because it would replace an existing 1 cent sales tax that’s set to expire sometime this summer.
Even if legislators and Gov. Tim Walz OK it this spring, the new tax’s fate would ultimately rest with East Grand Forks voters, who would be asked to consider each proposed project individually -- approving fewer projects would presumably make the tax expire sooner, but wouldn’t lower its rate. City officials could also ask voters to approve a tax that’s smaller than 2 percent, even if the Legislature approves it at that rate.
As submitted to legislators, the new tax would last for 30 years or until the city collects $48.5 million from it. Revenue from the tax would pay back the bonds the city would take out to pay for whichever projects -- if any -- make it past the Legislature and East Grand Forks voters.