With voters on Election Day delivering a sizable defeat to a pair of ballot questions that proposed sweeping park and recreation enhancements, Cottage Grove officials say the city will now fall back on a long-term plan to complete piecemeal park improvements over the next decade.
Voters soundly rejected both park questions. One question asked to borrow $6.5 million to build a family aquatic center, and the other requested $7 million to turn a vacant pool building into an indoor/outdoor play center and to make numerous improvements at Hamlet Park, including four new baseball/softball fields.
Question No. 1 -- funding an aquatic center -- failed 64 percent to 36 percent, or 12,128 votes to 6,954. Question No. 2, which asked voters about the proposed play center and Hamlet Park improvements, fared little better, failing 61.5 percent 'no' to 38.5 percent 'yes,' or 11,596 votes to 7,246.
Approval of the questions would have meant an increase in property taxes to pay for construction-related bonding costs. The city estimated an increase in city taxes of $74 per year on a home valued at $230,000 if voters had passed both questions.
Mayor Myron Bailey supported passage of the park questions and said recently he was somewhat surprised by how resoundingly voters defeated them. Public surveys conducted earlier this year had shown enough support for the Cottage Grove City Council to move forward with putting the proposed projects on last week's ballot.
"I said we would put together the [community center] task force, we would make recommendations and we would put it before voters. That's what we did," Bailey said. "I think voters told us [that] now is not the right time."
While an aquatic center is now unlikely in the near future, city officials said, other improvements -- like trail and soccer field upgrades at Hamlet Park -- are already in Cottage Grove's 10-year capital improvement plan and could be completed as funding becomes available.
"Over the next decade I could see where we could do something here, something there," said City Administrator Ryan Schroeder.
One of the priciest pieces of the referendum -- the proposed construction of four new ball fields -- will now likely have among the longest waits before becoming reality, officials interviewed said. Schroeder estimated the cost of constructing the fields, and the infrastructure improvements that would go along with it, to be in the neighborhood of $4 million.
Its failure was a blow to the Cottage Grove Athletic Association, the organization's president said, with the city's current complement of baseball and softball fields unable to support the association's future needs.
"Obviously, you're disappointed," CGAA President Daniel Harrison said, adding that he understood why some voters would not want to raise property taxes. "We see those things as investments in the entire community [that improve] the perceived value of Cottage Grove, things that make the community nice."
Harrison said recently the CGAA spent roughly $800 on yard signs supporting Question No. 2 and questioned whether a bigger investment or more aggressive campaign to support the referendum would have been successful given the wide margin by which both questions were defeated.
The athletic association, however, also doesn't want its desire for new fields to fall off the radar, he said.
"We're going to be working with the city to say we want to be a priority," Harrison said.