Taxpayers Push for Vote on City’s Pricey Community Center Plan

One issue won’t be on the ballot in the Twin Cities suburb of Andover. It’s the mega-bucks proposed expansion to the city’s community center. The nearly $19 million price tag has stirred up controversy and calls for a referendum, according to the Star Tribune.

The project has split the City Council, which voted 3-2 last month to move forward while directing staffers to cut costs. An $18.9 million project budget would mean a property tax hike of about $113 for owners of a $250,000 house, the median value in town.

Some residents point out that would come on top of the tax sting from a record-breaking $249 million referendum approved last fall by Anoka-Hennepin School District voters.

City Administrator Jim Dickinson said Andover now is working to shave just over $2 million from the price in an effort to limit the tax increase to no more than $100 for a $250,000 house.

While city staff dissects the numbers in hopes of making the project more palatable, momentum appears to be mounting for the spending to be put to a vote of the taxpayers. Meantime, the planning process has already cost some $300,000 of public funds.

Some are pushing for a referendum on the project, an option that’s stirred debate and is expected to come up at a Nov. 27 City Council workshop.

Council Member Sheri Bukkila said she views the expansion as a “community want” as opposed to a need. “That decision best lies with the taxpayer in the voting booth,” she said.

Bukkila said some aspects of the project, including the meeting rooms and spaces for teens and seniors, seem to have broader support than others. “Those assets fill gaps in services that we don’t have, or make them better,” she said.

At an Oct. 9 meeting, some residents pressed for a public vote on the project. Others argued that not enough people frequent the center to justify the head-turning cost, saying the expansion would mostly benefit certain groups such as the hockey community.

It may be called a community center. But it’s far from clear whether the community will have the final say on it.