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The voters decide the fate of the recreation center | news

Now it’s up to the voters.

After years of debate, the Litchfield Area Recreation Center will be up for election in November. If voters agree to a half-cent sales tax and a proposed school bond, a new field home, hiking trail and eight-lane swimming pool will become a reality.

If city voters approve the sales tax but not the school bond, they get a four-station field home and a walking trail, minus the pool and other improvements to the school facilities.

If they approve the school bond but not the half-cent sales tax, they get the pool and school improvements but no community house and indoor running track and fitness center.

If voters reject both questions, the recreation center will not take place.

Whether additional amenities, such as a separate water area with warmer water, become part of the complex is dependent on local donations, fundraising and partnerships with the county board and county hospital, which have been solicited for contributions. An additional pool area would add approximately $1.8 million to the total cost of the joint project of $26-27 million.

This scenario was laid out at length at a Litchfield City Council meeting two weeks ago. On July 18, Litchfield City Council took action to effectively put its stake in the project on the ballot for townspeople to decide.

City Manager Dave Cziok made it clear that without the half-cent sales tax (which most other cities the size of Litchfield and above already levy in this area), “it would be difficult if not impossible without the sales tax revenue.”

He showed the city council how money from that tax could pay back most of the construction bonds sold to build the project over a 20-year period. Coupled with fees for using the facility, private and public donations, and use of reserves, that could keep the recreation center from forcing the council to raise the city’s property taxes to pay back the bonds.

Cziok also warned that if the ballot question fails, the city may have to return the $5 million already allocated by the Minnesota Legislature for the city’s $13.6 million share. “And if we don’t succeed in November, the cost will only increase between 2022 and 2024,” he said, referring to the earliest date the council could return to voters for another attempt at a citywide sales tax .

“We are considering funding with little to no impact on property taxes,” Cziok told the council. “That is our goal.”

By voting unanimously to put the sales tax question on the ballot, the council agreed it’s time voters let them know whether or not they want a recreation center.

Further action on the school’s involvement in this joint project is expected within a few weeks.

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