After lengthy discussion the St. Michael-Albertville school district reversed its course Monday evening, determining that it no longer had a consensus to move forward with the tax abatement levy to fund a second sheet of ice. Without the agreement of all three governing bodies, this makes the $250,000 Mighty Ducks grant null and void and causes a setback for ice arena supporters.
School board members unanimously expressed dismay about the vote, but said their larger concerns and questions about other possible options loomed too largely to ignore.
Board members voiced concerns over the local voters not getting to vote on the issue, which many residents have taken issue with. They felt that the $250,000 grant, while not insignificant, was not a large enough sum to convince them to move ahead with the tax abatement levy in order to meet the grant’s aggressive timeline to get the arena built.
Board member Jeff Lindquist said his main point of contention is that the three governing bodies could save taxpayers potentially $4 to $5 million by funding the arena expansion as a school district voter-approved bond, since school district bonds are funded between 50-60 percent by the state of Minnesota. With a tax abatement levy, local voters are responsible for 100 percent of the costs.
Board chair Doug Birk said he felt the tax abatement levy would not soon be forgotten by voters upset over not getting a say in the matter, and he worried that this, along with rising property taxes across the board, would make a future levy referendum a difficult sell to voters. With a potential budget deficit looming in the future, dependent upon future state funding, Birk felt the board needed to consider education needs above all else.
In a sharp turn of events, board members reached consensus to look into the feasibility of presenting a bond referendum to voters that would encompass a second sheet of ice and other legitimate school district facility needs. They also reached consensus that they are open to getting a bond in front of voters sooner rather than later, despite their earlier concerns over a future school operating levy and not wanting to disrupt that potential future levy’s ability to pass.
Much remains to be seen on this issue, including whether the Minnesota Department of Education would approve this potential bond. Board chair Doug Birk asked school district superintendent Jim Behle to speak with the cities of St. Michael and Albertville, do some initial research on the topic and bring it back to the board for further discussion in January.
Albertville Supported Tax Levy Schedule
The school district’s vote came almost at the same time as the City of Albertville chose to move forward with an abatement levy discussion – the state tactic that would allow the city to create a special tax on its own, without a public vote.
The city council, led by Mayor Jillian Hendrickson, has stated its support behind the second sheet, and is open to multiple methods of funding. The motion to continue the discussion had received mainly positive feedback from then city leaders with only Walter Hudson opposing it, based mostly on the arena’s proposed $8 million price tag.
Hockey leaders, however, are at odds with that amount, saying the arena expansion could be done for substantially less.
The City of St. Michael has the arena on its agenda tonight as well. It remains to be seen how the STMA School Board decision will direct that conversation. The arena had support in council by a 3-2 margin, but that was prior to a Nov. 30 joint meeting and last night’s reversal by the school board.