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Dave Olson, Published March 27 2013

West Fargo looks at half-cent sales tax for aquatics center

WEST FARGO - A community and aquatics center proposed in West Fargo would likely cost at least $21 million and could call for a half-cent city sales tax, according to an update given to city, school and park officials Wednesday.

After the joint meeting of all three entities, Mayor Rich Mattern stressed that public input would be sought before tax dollars are spent on a facility.

“There were a lot of numbers floating around here tonight, I’m anxious to get the final report so I can digest it,” Mattern said, adding, “This was a good start.”

Stu Isaac, a consultant working with city, park district and school district staff on developing what a center might entail, provided details on potential costs of building and operating a complex.

He said for a center to be successful it would have to be run like a business, and the manager that’s hired to operate it needs to have extensive experience.

Isaac presented two possibilities for a center:

The first was a base option that would include:

• A competition/training pool.

• A teaching/fitness pool for things like swimming lessons, senior activities and therapy.

• A family water park.

• Basketball courts and a training room.

The second option, Isaac said, would be an upgraded version of the base option that would include nicer amenities and masonry construction.

The base option could cost roughly $21.4 million to $25 million, while the upgraded option could cost $27.9 million to $32.3 million, according to figures provided by Isaac.

The committee developing the proposal suggested the city provide about $13.5 million for construction, with the park district contributing about $5 million and the school district about $2.5 million.

No details were presented about where that money would come from or how sales tax revenue would be used.

In developing a potential budget for the complex, Isaac said it’s been suggested that once the facility is up and running, the school district and park district would each chip in $200,000 a year as part of the operating revenue.

Swimming lessons would be an important part of the center, and they would provide a large chunk of the facility’s annual revenues, perhaps $340,000 a year, Isaac said.

It’s proposed the center be built on 10 acres of park district land just east of Freedom Elementary School, 401 26th Ave. E.

Officials said the next step in the process will be to touch base with various groups to make sure the plan developed meets their needs.

After that, the proposal would be presented at larger public meetings, officials said.

The committee developing the plan has suggested setting up a half-cent city sales tax that would go toward funding construction.

City Commissioner Mike Thorstad voiced concern that using sales tax dollars for an aquatic center might limit the city’s options for paying for other infrastructure needs, and he said officials will have to determine where taxpayers want resources to go.

“We need to gauge how the public wants to prioritize,” Thorstad said.

Isaac, president of Isaac Sports Group, an Ann Arbor, Mich., firm that specializes in aquatic facilities and marketing, said in developing plans for a center in West Fargo that it’s apparent the city would make good use of one.

“There’s clearly unmet demand,” he said, adding that for every community there’s the right pool to meet needs and resources.

“We know that this facility, if built properly and managed properly, can pay for itself in terms of the annual operating budget,” Isaac said.

“We feel strongly that aquatics are very important to the life of a community, from the 3-year-olds learning to swim to the seniors for whom it’s a critical part of their fitness and lifestyle,” Isaac added.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555