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Proposed East Grand Forks sales tax still awaits decision at Minnesota Legislature

The tax would help pay for several improvements on the Civic Center, the baseball field at Itts Williams Park adjacent to the Civic Center and the VFW Memorial Arena.

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A water tower in East Grand Forks, Minn. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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EAST GRAND FORKS – A 20-year, 1.25% sales tax is still making its way through the Minnesota Legislature. If it's approved there, the tax will then come back to East Grand Forks for a citywide vote in the fall.

Parks and Recreation Superintendent Reid Huttunen, said the hope is to learn of the legislators' decision by next month.

If approved at the state and community level, the tax, which will generate $21.5 million, will help fund updates to the city’s recreation facilities. The total estimated cost of the recreation improvement project is $29,792,509, though Huttunen said that price is subject to change. The additional $8 million needed would come from fundraising and other funding sources.

Improvements would be made on the Civic Center, the baseball field at Itts Williams Park adjacent to the Civic Center and the VFW Memorial Arena.

While the Civic Center has had upgrades over the course of the years — such as having a dedicated locker room for the girls high school hockey team and renovations to the concessions areas and restrooms done in 2015 — Huttunen said the planned improvements would get the rest of the building caught up.

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The VFW Memorial Arena hasn’t received any major renovations. Huttunen said the facility has stayed almost exactly the same as when it was built in 1982.

The renovations are separated into two phases, with phase one including major improvements that are the top priority for funding within the master plan. Some of the major improvements include ensuring the facilities are compliant with the American with Disabilities Act; upgrades to mechanical, electrical and plumbing; fixing the ice rink systems at the VFW Memorial Arena; and improving the field structure at Itts Williams Park. The total estimated cost of improvements within phase one would be $24,710,319.

Within phase two are project priorities that would take shape as fundraising dollars are generated and after phase one projects are fully funded. Some of these improvements include installing an emergency generator at the Civic Center and building a connection addition: a new lobby, concessions, viewing areas and multi-purpose rooms in the VFW Memorial Arena. The total estimated cost of phase two renovations would be $5,082,190.

Huttunen said plans for the improvements to the facilities have been discussed on the City Council level since around 2018. The city had a sales tax request at the state Legislature in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic ended up kicking sales tax requests to the side. Since then, Huttunen said more discussion has occurred on the work needed for the facilities.

“That gave us an opportunity to reassess where we were at and made sure that our plans for how we wanted to improve the facilities was going the right direction,” Huttunen said. “We formed a building committee to really take a dedicated look at that work in early 2021 and that’s the work that we’re trying to carry through with this plan we have today.”

Earlier this year the council approved a 30-year, 1.25% sales tax that would have helped pay for $37.4 million in facility upgrades, but the tax was vetoed by Mayor Steve Gander, who was concerned about the length of a 30-year tax. Ultimately, the council passed a shorter 20-year sales tax, which has meant budget reductions have been made to the project.

Some of those reductions include reducing the HVAC central monitoring systems in the Civic Center and VFW Memorial Arena as well as reducing the number of parking spaces in the planned redesigned parking lots.

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Overall, Huttunen said the renovations will improve the safety of the facilities and will also ensure they’re being used on a year-round basis.

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“The goal of it is to make the facilities stand the test of time and more efficient, more up-to-date and more accessible from an ADA perspective, but also just from a user perspective,” Huttunen said. “We want to better serve how and when the facilities can be used.”

Huttunen said the improvements would not only benefit the residents of East Grand Forks, but also people in Grand Forks and throughout the region.

“There would be a lot of opportunities for people from outside of East Grand Forks to be able to come in and use them, whether that be for a community event, a convention, a public meeting or to take in a hockey game or figure skating competition,” he said.    

Related Topics: EAST GRAND FORKS
Meghan Arbegast grew up in Security-Widefield, Colorado. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from North Dakota State University in Fargo, in 2021.

Arbegast wrote for The Spectrum, NDSU's student newspaper, for three years and was Head News Editor for two years. She was an intern with University Relations her last two semesters of college.

Arbegast covers news pertaining to the city of Grand Forks/East Grand Forks including city hall coverage.

Readers can reach Arbegast at 719-235-8640 or MArbegast@gfherald.com.

Pronouns: She/Her
Languages: English
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