Facility tax assistance

A committee laid the groundwork Tuesday in its mission to determine what constitutes a “community facility” that is eligible for Minot city sales tax assistance.

Mayor Curt Zimbelman, who appointed the committee with the city council’s support, conceded that the discussion is coming late, given that a number of facilities already have been funded through the sales tax program. The council’s debate over those grants highlighted the need for more clarity on the eligibility issue.

“The more we can define things, the easier it’s going to be on everybody,” Zimbelman said.

The committee, chaired by Brekka Kramer, heard from a few community members and generated some ideas to ponder until the next meeting.

Committee member Dean Somerville presented his suggestion that only community facilities operated by political subdivisions be eligible for funding. Projects of nonprofit organizations would be limited to partnerships with political subdivisions. The city has partnered with political subdivisions on previous grant awards but also funded some projects through enterprise agreements with nonprofit organizations.

“It can be used, but you may want to use it sparingly,” former city attorney John Van Grinsven said of enterprises. Van Grinsven advised that donating money to another political subdivision is easier because “you are on good, thick legal ice. When you start talking about private entities, the ice gets thinner.”

He said the key factors for enterprises are that an ordinance be in place, the project serve a public purpose, implementation procedures be spelled out and the city maintain supervisory control.

The committee also discussed whether the city should be allocating money to numerous small projects or if it should dedicate dollars to one large project. The Minot Park District plans to conduct a feasibility study to determine the potential for a major recreation center. If the study comes back positive, the sales tax could be a potential source of funding.

Somerville said improving indoor recreational opportunities is important in North Dakota’s climate.

“This is all about the quality of life for the citizens of Minot,” he said.

However, committee members have concern that the tax can’t be counted on. When voters in 2011 redirected the sales tax from the Northwest Area Water Supply to infrastructure, community facilities and property-tax relief, the stipulation was that the tax would revert back if NAWS ever needs more money. Community facilities now get 30 percent of the tax, or an estimated $3.9 million this year.

City council member Dave Lehner said his idea of a community facility is a fire station or flood control project.

“Part of my quality of life is not having to worry about flooding. Alleviating that is a big part of quality of life,” he said.

Kari Conrad, who is involved in local arts programs, noted that arts would be cut out of the funding picture if eligibility requires partnership with a political subdivision.

“Arts are overwhelmingly nonprofit. Somehow, we would like to be able to come with our small projects,” Conrad said. “There are a number of facilities around that really need to be taken care of, and the nonprofits don’t have the financial wherewithal to do that.”

Facilities projects that have been funded through the sales tax since the program’s inception are:

– Bishop Ryan High School, $275,000 to improve the gymnasium.

– Minot Commission on Aging, $400,000 for improvements at the Parker Senior Center.

– Minot Family YMCA, $193,585 to build a community outdoor fitness park.

– North Dakota State Fair Association and Minot Curling Club, $275,000 to replace the ice rink floor and cooling pipes in a facility on the fairgrounds.

– Minot Park District, $1 million to construct a third sheet of ice at Maysa Arena, up to $800,000 to construct three girls fast-pitch softball fields, $500,000 to improve and expand the Hammond Park tennis facility and $250,000 to repair the flood-damaged Jack Hoeven baseball complex and Corbett Field. The council also committed to $1 million for Maysa in each 2015 and 2016 if funds are available.

– Minot State University, $1 million a year for up to four years to improve Herb Parker Stadium.