The Minot Park District wants to build a gigantic $88 million recreation facility. These facilities have become something of a fad among communities in the state – Bismarck, Grand Forks, and Williston all have one – and it seems Minot’s leaders want to keep up with the Joneses.
And they’re in a hurry. The project was announced to the public in late January, and already Minot voters are being asked to approve it on the ballot in April.
In that short time I suspect proponents of this project are hoping to gloss over some serious holes in their proposal, but the facts are not kind to their case.
The first problem is the estimated cost. The Park District is telling us that it will cost $88 million, yet already this year voters were asked to authorize more funding for the county jail expansion which went way over budget. Downtown Minot also has two gaping holes currently which are supposed to be parking ramps. Instead they’re eyesores which seem destined to be the subject of costly litigation because the project was underbid.
There is good reason to believe that the cost of the Park District facility has been underestimated as well.
Consider that the Minot Park District has not yet announced where this facility will be located. “A location for the MARC will not be decided until after the public vote,” a public information bulletin about the facility posted on the Park District website states.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]How can the Park District have an accurate estimate of the cost of this facility before they’ve even decided where it will be located and how much the land will cost?[/mks_pullquote]
How can the Park District have an accurate estimate of the cost of this facility before they’ve even decided where it will be located and how much the land will cost? How much will the infrastructure to this 466,000 square foot property cost? Roads? Electricity? Sewer? Water?
We don’t know, yet we’re expected to authorize the expense next month. Voters are also being asked to vote on a facility without knowing how convenient it will be for them to travel to, an important consideration you’d think.
Here’s another problem. The Park District is touting a business plan for the facility based on very specific foot traffic numbers. The business plan is aimed at convincing voters the facility will be able to rely on its own revenues for the bulk of its operational costs.
But again, how can they arrive at those numbers without knowing where the facility is to be located? We are supposed to believe that the Park District knows how many people will use this facility without yet picking a location?
That strains belief.
The project is also being sold as a sort of property tax relief. In approving funding for the facility, voters will also approve a shift of all Park District revenues from the property tax to the sales tax. “In 2014, the owner of a $200,000 home was assessed $216.61 for the Park District,” an information sheet published by the Park District states. “By replacing the property taxes with a 1 cent sales tax a homeowner of a $200,000 residence in Minot would have to spend $21,616 in taxable purchases to equal the replaced property tax that was saved. “
But in exchange for that property tax relief, Minot would also have to levy the highest city sales tax rate in the state. That could put our community at a serious disadvantage when it comes to luring out-of-town shoppers, including Canadian shoppers. Given that our state’s economy is already in the midst of a slowdown thanks to falling oil and agriculture prices, do we really want to hit our business community with the highest sales tax rate in the state too?
Speaking of double whammies, consider this statement buried on the Park District website: “It is also important to note if the vote is successful the ballot language was written to ensure the public would have the ability to revert back to property tax funding for Park District operations at any time by holding another election if they so choose.”
In other words, the property tax could come back.
That doesn’t sound like a good deal for voters. This whole effort seems like a rush to a serious mistake.
Caveat emptor, voters. Buyer beware.