Cottage Grove voters to decide $13.5 million in city park improvementsA 'yes' vote would impact Cottage Grove property tax bills.
Cottage Grove voters will decide this fall whether the city undertakes more than $13 million in park improvements and additions — including new ball fields and an aquatics park.
City officials propose to raise property taxes to finance the projects —but they want Cottage Grove residents to have the final say. The City Council voted last week to put a trio of proposals on the November ballot.
Voters will consider a pair of ballot questions:
n One question will ask voters whether to spend an estimated $6.5 million for an interactive aquatic facility. That measure comes just a year after the city shuttered its 50-year-old municipal pool citing rising maintenance and operation costs and falling attendance. The new water park would be larger, more efficient to operate and more centrally-located than the old pool, though a site has not been selected, the city has said.
n A second question will ask citizens to approve $7 million in bonding for improvements to existing facilities and the construction of four new baseball diamonds at Hamlet Park and the repurposing of a 5,500 square-foot building at the city’s disused pool as an indoor play center.
“There is a want-versus-need factor” in putting the proposed park projects on the ballot, Mayor Myron Bailey said. He said that was not the case for the $15 million city hall and public safety complex that is slated to open in October.
The council’s decision to approve that project without a citywide vote drew the ire of some residents, but a new city hall building is critical to municipal operations, Bailey said. Park amenities, he continued, “are more of a want.”
Despite the possible costs —and accompanying tax increase — there is public support for the park improvements. Minneapolis-based market research firm Decision Resources, Ltd., conducted a community survey last month that showed strong support among likely voters for the aquatics park, Hamlet improvements and a play center.
“I firmly believe both questions will pass based on the feedback I’m getting,” Bailey said.
Property tax impact
A ‘yes’ vote could have a sizable impact on Cottage Grove property tax statements.
If voters approve both referendum questions, city spending on bonding for the projects would amount to an additional $77 in property taxes per year on a $200,000 home for 20 years, according to city estimates. That figure would climb to $170 per year on a home valued at $400,000.
The passage of only one parks question would mean a smaller bump in taxes — less than $40 on a $200,000 home and just more than $80 per year on a home double that value.
Though consultants told city officials two questions could confuse voters, council members like Dave Thiede said they feared the entire package of projects in one question — and the accompanying $13.5 million price tag voters would see — could doom the ballot measure to failure.
“You’re at a high risk of not getting anything with that big number,” Thiede said in explaining his support for two questions instead of one, all-encompassing ballot measure.
The council voted 4-1 to include the ballot measures in the Nov. 6 election. Council member Derrick Lehrke voted against the measure.
Lehrke said he is “totally comfortable” with plans to expand Hamlet Park but voted against putting the parks referendum questions on the ballot because of concerns with the proposed aquatic facility.
“I don’t think we should be doing it right now,” he said, adding that he preferred to wait until plans to redevelop an empty Home Depot into a multi-retail space anchored by an LA Fitness is finalized.
City officials have said developers involved in that project are finalizing financing and that they expect the redevelopment to move forward as planned. If it doesn’t, though, Lehrke said he believed that could change the city’s plans for new recreational facilities.
No space for softball fields
A fourth project that proposed to purchase farmland east of Lamar Park for future softball fields won’t go before voters after the council expressed little support for it.
Parks and Recreation Director Zac Dockter said existing baseball fields at Hamlet Park will be converted to accommodate softball tournaments until more softball fields are constructed. Cottage Grove Athletic Association softball officials had lobbied the city to include the land buy in the ballot measure.
The plan provides a short-term solution until the long-term need of more softball fields is met, Dockter said.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” he said.