City Debt Triples As Minot Voters Consider $88 Million Rec Center

Here’s some local news for you Minot area readers.

As you know I’m not a big fan of the Minot Park District’s proposed $88 million recreation center and water park, called the MARC or Minot Area Recreation Center. It was proposed in January and rushed to the ballot. Voters will decide its fate tomorrow (here’s the ballot language). As I’ve explained before, this is a terrible idea.

They say it’ll cost $88 million, but they don’t have a location picked out for the facility yet, so how can they possibly have an accurate estimate of the cost of construction? And while proponents tout the vote as a sort of tax relief (it would shift the Park District property tax mill levy to the sales tax), it would leave Minot with the highest municipal sales tax in the state at 8.5 percent.

Minot’s proposed rec center has been compared with a similar facility built in Williston using the same property tax-to-sales tax shift, but I’d point out that Williston’s 7 percent sales tax after their park district vote (CORRECTION: Per the comments, Williston has since tacked on another 1 percent)┬áis below Minot’s existing 7.5 percent sales tax even after their increase. If Minot tacks on another 1 percent to the sales tax, we will be 20 percent higher than Williston’s sales tax.

That’s a significant difference. And here’s another problem voters should consider: Minot’s debt has exploded in recent years, per the Minot Daily News:

In 2010, the debt per capita was $888. Even with a nearly 9 percent estimated population increase, the current debt per capita is about $3,021.

At the end of 2014, Minot residents were carrying nearly $140 million in debt, compared to $37.75 million of debt in 2010. Details of the current debt include:

Minot Public School District had $23.9 million in debt, of which nearly $23.7 million was assessed to residents within the city of Minot.

Minot Park District carries $10.4 million in debt, all assessed to city residents.

Ward County has $34.6 million in debt, of which $23 million falls on city residents.

The city of Minot has nearly $15.3 million in general obligation debt, essentially for street projects.

The city of Minot has almost $23.2 million in debt for improvements paid through special assessments placed on those residents who benefit from the improvements.

The city of Minot has $23.3 million in water and sewer revenue debt.

The city of Minot has $19.2 million in airport revenue debt.

The city also has added about $2 million in debt for updates to the All Seasons Arena, to be paid by lodging tax.

The city as all of this debt, plus lingering issues from the flood a few years ago and oil boom impacts which haven’t yet been addressed. But voters are supposed to say yes to another $88 million in debt (and probably a lot more because there’s no way that estimate is accurate) for a recreation center?

The supporters of this bad idea say that flood recovery and oil boom impacts aren’t the purview of the Park District, which is right as far as it goes, but the Park District is looking to get a bigger slice of revenues out of Minot commerce.

The city only has so much tax bandwidth citizens are going to be willing to pay. Amid all this debt, and other more pressing needs, should we really be dedicating more money to a frivilous project like the MARC?

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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