North Mankato bucks trend as cities impose sales tax for community centers

It’s all the rage among local elected officials in cities from Dilworth to Rochester to Fairmont and points in between. A community center funded by imposing an up to 25-year local sales tax on residents, contingent on rubber-stamping by the state legislature and approval by the electorate in a citywide vote.

But so far the city of North Mankato appears to be bucking the trend, according to the Free Press.

A proposal to ask the state Legislature to allow North Mankato to extend its local sales tax, with the intention of helping to fund a new indoor recreation facility at Caswell Park, was put on hold at the City Council’s first meeting of the year Tuesday night.

Administrator Kevin McCaan said that it was a council decision on whether they wanted to ask the state to allow the city to extend the local half-percent sales tax for six years, which would raise about $17 million.

The bigger the city, the bolder the proposal. Last year Rochester announced the need for a $65 million regional facility before city hall could even articulate why it was needed, as the Post Bulletin pointed out at the time.

“Obviously, we have some definition of the project to do here,” Deputy City Administrator Aaron Parrish told the Rochester City Council on Monday.

The proposed complex would be a resource for community events, as well as recreational activities, but specific uses have yet to be defined

At the other end of the state and financial spectrum, the northwestern Minnesota city of Dilworth hopes to spend a modest $5 to $6 million, if all goes as planned. Again, it’s far from clear what the community center will include, according to Forum.

The city will also host public input opportunities to learn more about what the residents want as the project gets closer, Olson added.

Olson told The Forum in May that the scope of the project and the location would be determined after public input, but the initial plan is to build it in an open field just east of the two strip malls in the new commercial Rail District on the city’s eastern fringe.

Meantime, the Fairmont Sentinel says the estimated cost of building a community center has more than doubled in the seven years or so that city has kicked the concept around. The $14 million raised by a proposed local option sales tax won’t come close to covering the project’s soaring price tag.

In the years since many conversations with different stakeholders have taken place and a lot has changed due to delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, changes to the City Council and rising project costs due to inflation.

What was once expected to be a $20 million facility is coming in at close to $44 million, which would include both a YMCA facility and ice arena. Most recently, the Community Center Advisory Board and FACC had been looking at a YMCA only facility, which still carries a higher price tag of about $24 million.

But before North Mankato takes the plunge, officials plan to analyze the results from the current local sales tax on the books that’s set to expire, while taking a hard look at the long term commitment of running a community center.

Councilwoman Sandra Oachs said the council should review where local sales tax dollars have been spent so far and should get a new review of not only the construction costs of a rec center but the ongoing operational and maintenance costs.

The conversation will continue in future council meetings, but for now North Mankato intends to have a plan in place before asking residents to reup the local sales tax, instead of the other way around.