Shakopee leaders have turned to voters three times for money to fix up the city’s aging community center. Each time, residents said no.
Now the city is pursuing plans for large-scale improvements, including an indoor playground and a two-sheet ice arena, without first asking residents for permission. The City Council voted June 30 to move forward with financing the community center without a referendum.
The existing community center is about 20 years old. Sometimes divisive plans for an update have come and gone. City leaders say this latest iteration, which has been in the works for about a year, has drawn more community support.
The 3-2 vote last week divided the council along a familiar line, with the majority pushing for amenities to serve the growing suburb and the minority worried about the reaction from residents who could see higher taxes as a result of the costly project.
“I’m concerned about sticker shock,” said Council Member Matt Lehman, one of the dissenting votes.
He noted upcoming tax increases from a recent school referendum, increasing property values and a new Scott County sales tax, and expressed concern about the effect on the average household.
“It’s a lot easier to have that increase … when the people paying the bills have a say in it,” he said.
The council decided at its June 16 meeting to pursue a $27.4 million project, part of which will be an update to the city’s existing community center. Amenities at the new center, if approved, will include an aquatic facility, an expanded fitness center, an indoor playground, a senior center and child care. Another building will house a two-sheet ice arena. These changes are expected to nearly double community center membership. They’ll also spur higher rates, expanded hours and more staffing.
According to the city’s website, the tax abatement bonds under consideration to finance the upgrades would allow the city to use future taxes from a special levy to pay off the project — no voter approval necessary.
Council Member Kathi Mocol said the community center update is an opportunity to give back to residents who’ve lately seen a lot of growth.
Though there won’t be a referendum, residents will have opportunities to give public input at meetings before a final decision is made.
“We’ve talked about this … for 20 years and it’s time, I think, to move on,” Council Member Jay Whiting said. “Let’s get it done.”