Mayor fears $65 million rec center could sink Rochester local sales tax vote

Rochester city hall desperately wants voters to reauthorize the half-cent local option sales tax that’s set to sunset this year, along with the $12 million the tax generates annually.

Officials plan to put four projects totaling $205 million to be funded by extending the sales tax on the ballot this November: $50 million for economic development, $50 million for street work, $40 million for flood control/water quality and $65 million for a controversial regional sports and recreation center flagged by American Experiment from the start. 

It’s a classic case of the cart going before the horse. City movers and shakers decided the sports and recreational complex should go before voters more than a year ago. But officials have had a heck of a time ever since determining what to do with it, exactly which pressing needs the facility would fill and whom it would benefit to justify spending $65 million of taxpayer funds.

This week the extent of concern over the still ill-defined sports and rec center took center stage at a pivotal city council meeting. The Post Bulletin was on hand for the showdown between Rochester Mayor Kim Norton and the city council.

“I do not want to lose our three needs for the potential of a want,” Norton said, questioning whether voters will support the proposed sport and recreation complex that has yet to be fully defined.

Plans for the proposed sports and recreation complex remain in the works, with the focus on a mix of indoor and outdoor fields and courts designed to attract tournaments and provide access to local residents.

Despite Norton’s veto threat, the Rochester City Council went ahead and approved a measure to combine all four projects as a package in one question on the ballot, effectively requiring residents to take an all or nothing vote. But the next day, Norton followed through and vetoed it, arguing residents should have the opportunity to weigh in on each project separately.

“I veto this resolution, in large part, because I believe that Rochester residents should be entitled to vote for each (of) the four proposed projects based on their individual merit and self-determined need in our community,” Mayor Kim Norton stated in an email sent to the council Tuesday as she issued the fifth veto.

Norton clearly fears residents may share her lack of confidence in the merits of spending $65 million of taxpayer funding on a sports and recreational facility still in search of a mission after more than a year of trying. But city councilors could still override her veto at a meeting later this month. Meantime a consultant will continue scrambling to put together a viable plan for the sports and rec center for city hall to pitch to the public in a format on the ballot yet to be determined.