Willmar voters to decide sales tax in November

Sales tax

WILLMAR—The voters of Willmar will now have the opportunity to approve or reject a local option sales tax which could raise $30 million for a host of projects across the city.

At Monday’s meeting, the Willmar City Council approved a resolution to place the question on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“We are a regional center and this really speaks to what we want for our future,” Councilor Audrey Nelsen said.

The council vote was 7 to 0, with Councilor Ron Christianson abstaining. He said he had concerns about future maintenance of the proposed projects, along with additional city spending on such projects as a possible city hall and upcoming water quality improvements.

“There is more spending coming, folks, and it’s tax dollars that are going to pay for it,” Christianson said.

The half-percent sales tax would be added to all eligible purchases for an estimated 13-year period. There would also be a $20 excise tax added to the retail sales of motor vehicles in the city. The additional half percent would raise Willmar’s total sales tax to 7.875 percent, on par with other regional centers and nearby cities including New London and Spicer.

“What we are really asking for is the eight council members to give the public an opportunity to vote yes or no,” said Matt Dawson, member of Invest in Willmar, the community group that brought the sales tax proposal forward earlier this year.

If approved by Willmar voters, the sales tax proposal would then need final approval from the state Legislature. The tax would not be collected until special legislation is approved.

All funds from the tax would be used for the planning, design and construction of the six projects in the approved resolution and the debt service associated with them. Once the projects are paid for, the tax would retire, even if it is earlier than 13 years.

“We are looking at this as an investment. Just like a business you have to update your equipment, invest in you people. We have to grow, the community has to grow,” Dawson said.

The sales tax resolution sets aside $10 million of the estimated $30 million for a new recreation and event center, $6 million for new softball/baseball and multipurpose athletic fields, $3 million for infrastructure improvements at Robbins Island, $2 million for spectator amenities and a new playground area at Swansson Field, $7 million for stormwater management infrastructure improvements and $2 million to replace the Willmar Community Center with a new building.

“Willmar is growing. We have to look beyond today and look toward the future … to bring in those amenities that allow us to grow and be the city people want to come to, live here, be proud of,” Councilor Fernando Alvarado said.

This could be Willmar’s third approved local option sales tax. The first, from 1998 to 2001, was used to pay for the Willmar Public Library expansion project. It raised $3.45 million.

The second tax ran from 2006 to 2012 and collected $13.9 million. The funds were used for several projects including Industrial Park redevelopment, hiking and biking trails and the Civic Center/Blue Line Arena connection.

A $10 million sales tax question failed in 2016. Some of those same projects, including Robbins Island, Swansson Field and the Civic Center, are now on the latest proposal.

“This will give us a good return on investment as well,” Mayor Marv Calvin said.

West Central Tribune by Shelby Lindrud

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