After Legislature doesn't decide on sales tax proposal, East Grand Forks considers repairs on facilities

EAST GRAND FORKS – With a proposed 20-year, 1.25% sales tax on hold, East Grand Forks City Administrator David Murphy said needed improvements on the VFW Arena is the main priority as staff are determining which recreational facilities are in need of the most work.

The sales tax, approved by the City Council earlier in the year, didn’t receive a decision from the Minnesota Legislature before the legislative session ended. According to Minnesota law, the sales tax needs legislative approval before it can go before the community's voters.

Minnesota state Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, said the reason behind the hold is the proposal was within a wider tax bill that wasn't agreed upon by legislators.

"It's just in a package that got stuck. A lot of things got stuck in different areas," Kiel said.

Murphy said the city can ask for the proposal to be discussed at the next legislative session, but the city wouldn't be able to vote on it until the next election in 2024.

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The money generated from the sales tax would have funded improvements to the Civic Center, the baseball field at Itts Williams Park adjacent to the Civic Center and the VFW Memorial Arena.

Murphy said the main focus now is ensuring the VFW Arena remains operational. While there are planned upgrades to the existing arena — such as a new lobby, concessions, viewing areas and multi-purpose rooms — the major work needed is on the refrigeration system, which is at risk of failing.

“If you lose that refrigeration you can’t operate without it,” Murphy said. “It’s the most critical one if it does fail.”

R-22 refrigerant — the type used at the arena to make the ice — is no longer made. Murphy said that means its price has spiked.

“We bought some a few years ago and we paid $14 a pound for it and now it’s selling for about $50,” he said.

Murphy said staff will meet toward the end of July to see what can be done for the arena’s refrigeration system to keep it operational until it can be fully replaced.

Another upgrade needed on the facility is to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Murphy said those improvements are much cheaper than the repairs to the refrigeration system and the city is trying to get that work done as well.

The other proposed renovations in the recreational facilities master plan are on the Civic Center and the baseball field at Itts Williams Park. Work includes improving the field structure at the park, reconstructing the parking lot and ensuring the Civic Center is ADA compliant as well. The Civic Center has received some upgrades in the past and the planned improvements would get the rest of the building caught up.

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In a previous interview with the Herald, Parks and Recreation Superintendent Reid Huttunen said the VFW Arena hasn’t received any major renovations since it was built in 1982 .

The total estimated cost for all the planned renovations on the recreational facilities is around $29 million. Murphy said funding options other than a sales tax for the prioritized work could potentially come from grant money, excess fund balance money and selling some property the city owns, but a sales tax would be the main source of getting the funds for the renovations.

The sales tax was expected to generate $21.5 million to go toward the major improvements. The remaining $8 million, which would have come from fundraising and other funding sources, would have gone toward other upgrades on the facilities.

In years to come, the total estimated cost of the projects are expected to increase.

“I don’t see any scenario where the cost of construction is going to go down,” Murphy said.



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