Bismarck city commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to place a half-cent sales tax increase on the ballot to fund construction of a new recreation center.
The tax would expire when bonds financing up to $108 million for the project were paid off.
City staff will draft the ballot's language and a charter amendment to accommodate a sales tax increase. Staff expect the center to open in 2023 if voters approve the project in June.
“It is a large dollar amount, and I applaud the citizens that were behind this to try and get something done, along with the park district. It’s a big haul, it’s a big lift,” Commissioner Steve Marquardt said.
Members of PARC 365, or People Advocating for Recreation Complex, spoke in favor of the recreation center before the vote. The Facebook group has 219 members. Group member Laura Pitcher said her family has participated in tennis tournaments in other major cities in the region that had recreation centers.
“We saw the need to bring those benefits back to the Bismarck-Mandan community. We also saw the need to help our communities be active all year long, 365 days a year,” Pitcher said. “There’s about seven months where we are indoors, and we would like to see a place where we can get active and play the sports we like to play all summer long, indoors.”
Before the vote, Mayor Steve Bakken said he preferred that the proposed tax increase be placed on the November ballot, instead of the June ballot. Voter turnout would be higher, he said.
Commissioner Shawn Oban disagreed with waiting until November. Some city commissioners are up for reelection in June and it would be more appropriate to have a community issue on a local election ballot, he said.
“It’s the June election that elects the very people sitting around this table,” Oban said.
Marquardt said he was “torn between the two,” saying he had received emails supporting “both ways.”
Commissioner Nancy Guy said during the meeting that a vote in favor doesn’t mean city commissioners are in favor of the half-cent sales tax increase funding the proposed recreation center.
Bismarck residents pay a total 7% sales tax rate, including state, city and county rates. The sales tax rate in Bismarck is 0.25% lower than in Grand Forks, Minot and Mandan, and 0.5% lower than in Fargo, according to a memo Parks and Recreation staff sent to city commissioners.
The city has a 1.5% total sales tax, which includes a 1% regular sales tax and a half-cent tax that can be used only for street construction projects in certain areas of Bismarck. If voters approve a half-cent increase, the city would collect a total 2% sales tax.
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A three-person family with an annual income of $50,000 would expect to pay $5.50 more a month, or $66 a year, in sales taxes with a half-cent increase, according to state Tax Department numbers Parks and Recreation cited.
The decision Tuesday followed a presentation by Park Board President Brian Beattie. Parks and Recreation, which was behind the proposal, projects the construction of the recreation center would cost about $114.5 million -- between a "low cost" estimate of $108 million and a projected "high cost" of $120 million.
A feasibility study produced by a consulting firm recommends funding the complex with private donations and a new sales tax. The Parks and Recreation's capital campaign committee plans to attempt to raise 5% to 10% of the project's cost in private donations, according to the memo to city commissioners.
"Anyone and everyone" would be able to use the recreation center, whether they are area residents or visitors, according to the memo. Parks and Recreation has yet to release membership rates for the proposed facility.
Parks and Recreation has not decided on where the center would be. It is considering four sites: property owned by developer Ron Knutson by St. Mary's Central High School in north Bismarck, the Silver Ranch and Sunrise developments in northeast Bismarck, and the Missouri Valley Complex in east Bismarck.
Projected revenue would be $2.6 million each year. Projected expenses would total $3.1 million annually. Expenses not covered by revenue would be paid through the Parks and Recreation budget. Executive Director Randy Bina told the Tribune in December that Parks and Recreation would cover the additional costs with "additional budget adjustments" of "around $300,000."
Last March, Parks and Recreation distributed a survey that received 1,717 complete responses, with questions based on a January 2019 public meeting.
When respondents were asked what facilities they wanted in an indoor recreation center, most selected walking and running tracks, followed by athletic courts. When they were asked what funding sources should finance a center, most chose "private and public partnerships," while property taxes was least-supported. Respondents ranked increased sales taxes second-lowest out of five options.
Parks and Recreation staff plan for the center to have a main building with a separate building housing an ice arena, and a courtyard in between. The concept includes a four-lane running and walking track and an “adventure trail,” an indoor cross-country track with elevation and obstacles, according to the feasibility study's concept plan. It also would include six tennis courts, five indoor pickleball courts, a gymnastics facility, an indoor turf field, two full-size gymnasiums and four racquetball courts.
Marquadt asked Beattie if he thinks a recreation center could have “a large economic impact to the community” by increasing the number of tournaments Bismarck could host or boosting the hotel and restaurant industry.
Beattie responded that six tennis courts would allow for team tennis tournaments. Pickleball and indoor soccer tournaments also could be a possibility. The hockey rink could support the girls state hockey tournament or help the Bismarck Bobcats draw a large audience, increasing “entertainment dollars,” he said.
All programs at the Parks and Recreation's Capital Racquet & Fitness Center would be moved to the new facility, according to the memo. A "facilities master plan" report by the consulting firm determined the existing structure's infrastructure and accessibility didn't suffice, and the center is unable to expand due to its age and location.
Facilities and Programs Director Kevin Klipfel said it is uncertain what would happen to the 43-year-old Capital Racquet building.
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