The MARC: Our Final Words

If you have chosen to get the information, you should be considering a ‘yes’ vote. If you’re firmly in the ‘no’ camp, these arguments won’t convince you to change your mind. I’m going to say them anyway.

Minot Needs a Place for Year-Round, Active Recreation

With the MARC proposal, the Park District has presented us with a concept that is more than a health club, more than a pool, and more than a couple basketball courts. What we’re considering in this election is a vote on true public space. What we’re talking about building is a ‘park’, it just happens to be mostly inside. And that is a good thing.

North Dakota weather is challenging — whatever the season. Be it the cold, wind, or the mosquitos, we have to fight to enjoy our active recreation. It’s why we savor our summers and nice days the rest of the year — they’re precious because they’re rare.

I for one would love to have a public space like the MARC. I would drive to use it personally; I believe it would be an asset to our community.

This is a Good Plan Developed by an Experienced Team

There is a lesson to be learned from the Ward County administration and jail building fiasco and the downtown parking garage boondoggle (making progress!), but it is not ‘quit trying’. The lesson we as a community need to take away from our recent poorly executed projects is ‘find a way to do it better’.

Estimating operational and construction costs are not dark arts. If you have experience running and building recreational centers, getting the costs right in different situations becomes a simple tweak of an equation. With the MARC, the Park District has thus far put this project in capable, experienced hands. IBIS Enterprises and Ohlson Lavoie Collaborative are as qualified as they come in projects like this. They have proven track records that include successful completions both in North Dakota and Minot.

If the proposal is approved, is it possible we’ll see some changes or hiccups along the way? Of course it is; we’re not approving a construction contract; we’re voting on an idea and concept plan. But we can and should be confident that it is a good plan.

Yes, even government is capable of learning from past mistakes.

Flood Protection or the MARC? No, This is Not an Either/Or Decision

We’ve been told from day one that flood protection was going to be a long process, and no doubt many of you are frustrated by what you can’t see happening. But the wheels are turning. City officials are hopeful that the first stage — protecting the water treatment plant — will get underway in the very near future.

And right now, we’ve got a full half-cent in sales tax dedicated to paying for flood protection. The $6+ million in yearly revenues from this allocation are more than enough to cover our imminent costs and keep the project moving.

Yes, we will need our state legislators to bring more dollars. Yes, we will have to find some more money in the local kitty. But if you’ve chosen to get up to speed on how we spend our existing sales tax dollars, you can see how a successful MARC vote might highlight some redundant allocations (hint: Community Facilities). It’s likely our second penny would need some reform. And if we chose to allocate some portion of that towards flood protection, we’d have a lot of annual revenue in place to finance our local share.

Is this the direction we’ll go? I have no idea, but I see a walkable path to financing our share of flood protection without additional taxes.

The Proposed Tax Model for the Park District is Right On!

Minot’s park system is a regional attraction, and it serves area residents far beyond city limits. And don’t think for a second that amenities like the Roosevelt Park Zoo and Pool, the MAYSA Arena, and Souris Valley Golf Course are a 100% self-sufficient. They’re not. Minot property owners have been making up the difference for years. A sales tax funded park district is a more equitable solution in a regional center like Minot.

Is the highest sales tax rate in the state one of those less-desirable titles? Yes, no community wants that label. But if you consider the challenges Minot has faced and will face in both the recent past and near future, perhaps having a modestly higher sales tax rate than other large communities is acceptable. Maybe it should even be expected.

Minot is a Water Town, Let’s Embrace it!

And here’s a tidbit you might not be aware of — in the last 40 years, Minot High boys and girls swimming programs have won 49 state titles. Unless we build a facility like the MARC, we won’t ever be able to witness them winning one in their home pool again.

On Tuesday, the considered vote is ‘Yes’ for the MARC and ‘Yes’ for Minot!

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Josh Wolsky

Developer & Writer @TheMinot Voice, Fan of the Souris River, There's a lot to Savor about Minot. Fortunate to be a 'former' City Council member ;)

2 comments on “The MARC: Our Final Words

Jim Soltis

Josh I really enjoy your hard work on this site but find I must comment on your post for the MARC issue. Do you remember Nancy Pelosi and her comment on Obama Care. If you do then you must see some real comparisons with the funding for this horrible project. Josh have you really considered the backlash of 8 1/2% sales tax. Why would you think that Minot should once again be the laughing stock of North Dakota? Do you really beleive that they will be able to fund this monstrosity? Heck the YMCA can’t even find 6 life gaurds and they said they would need something like 20. Also do your honestly believe that there will be no further property taxes levied in the near future to either replace the reduction or just add something new? Don’t you see the variouos problems in the city and the stupidity that continues to happpen? Flood protection, large holes, infrastructer and people that think they know what is best for Minot funded by those that will not be able to afford the bulk of the activities they offer but are forced to pay for them. I have talked with two contractors who both have said they are living in a dream world as far as construction, paving, land purchase and ground work not to say they believe the are way under valueing the cost of construction and maintenance.

Josh Wolsky

Hey Jim,

Thanks for bringing your comment here to the site! Love the discussion. If any of my responses are read in a tone that comes across as anything but cordial, my apologies, writing quickly for tone and clarity is difficult. And I’d enjoy continuing the discussion over a beer sometime, I’m always willing to talk Minot issues. I’ll respond to your concerns inline.

I’m not sure about the Nancy Pelosi comment; the famous one is about passing the bill so we can see what’s in it — if that’s the one you’re referring to, I don’t see any legitimate comparison there at all. The business plan and feasibility study for the MARC is 130 pages long; I’ve read it twice myself. I also spent 45 minutes on the phone with Donna Jarmusz, the President of IBIS Enterprises — the company for responsible for the plan. She earned my trust. Furthermore, I’ve had the plan read by a personal contact with no skin in this game to comment on its legitimacy. His comments, it’s a just a plan, it can change, but it is a legitimate, honest plan. Feasibility studies can be made to look however the interested parties want them to look, or they can be honest too. My research has led me to believe that we’re looking at an honest plan.

Have I thought about the impact of having an 8.5% sales tax? Yes, I have. I scoured the Internet looking for research on the effect of raising sales tax by a penny. I was surprised by how little I found — and I’m pretty good at research through the web. What I did find doesn’t favor your argument that the impacts will be traumatic, but I did not publish it because I felt the language was a bit too academic and did not translate perfectly to our scenario in Minot ND. You can read the research here, but basically what it says is that when making purchases, buyers act based on the price on the tag, not the price at the till.

Do you want Minot to be the laughing stock of North Dakota? No, I most certainly do not. It’s partly why I started The Minot Voice — Minot needs more oversight, more push back, more knowledgeable and less apathetic citizens. But that doesn’t mean The Minot Voice is going to pre-set on ‘oppose’ for every issue that’s brought before the citizens.

Do you really believe they will be able to fund this monstrosity? Yes, it’s why I looked so closely into our sales tax history. What I discovered — over the period that we have data for (dangerous I know) — is that Sales Tax has been a reliable revenue source, showing predictable annual growth over time. Does it occasionally walk back a bit? Yes, but over the term we’re talking about here — 20-25 years, our 30-year experience with sales tax shows reliable growth.

What about staffing the building (not your exact words)? If they can do it in Williston, then I believe we can do it in Minot. As far as citing the YMCA with regards to this matter, I’m not inclined to blindly accept what they say as a final answer.

Do I honestly believe there will be no further property taxes levied by the Park District? Yes, I have spoken to the Park District’s attorney, I have listened our Park Board President and Director share their feelings. I have no reason to distrust any of them. The requirement to leave the ability to levy property tax in place is tied to the fact that we have existing flood recovery bonds that are secured by that ability. Would it be better if we could go back in time and change the terms of those bonds so this election could be more straight forward? Yes, but in this case I’m again inclined to trust what we are being told. Property Taxes will not simply be able to be reinstituted on a whim by a money hungry Park Board — I simply will not accept that argument as I believe it is a matter of law on how the Park District would be required to act if the proposal were successful.

Don’t you see the problems Minot has and the stupidity that continues to happen? Yes, Minot has some significant problems. As far as the Minot Voice is concerned, the City of Minot and Ward County are on double secret probation, we’ve had some pretty atrocious outcomes delivered by those organizations recently, but as I said in the editorial above, I don’t view past failures as grounds to quit trying. And with regards to the Park District, in my view they have been one of the more responsible and functional elected boards representing Minot. Do I have a few personal gripes about the occasional softball field that isn’t perfectly level? Sure, but I also see an organization that following the flood figured out a way to get back on their feet pretty damn fast and pretty damn efficiently.

In my view, the citizens of Minot need a win, and this is the first project that’s been put in front us that doesn’t feel like a special interest piece. To me, this feels like taxpayer dollars being spent where they truly belong – in a building that will belong to the community and have facilities that are truly accessible and valuable to about 98% of us in one way or another. When you add up the water, the track, the turf space, the tennis, the golf, the senior citizen area, the playground, and the public space tying it all together, what you get is a Park. I love the concept. This is exactly the type of building I want the Park District presenting us with, and I have no problem letting the voters decide.

This town needs to regain trust in leadership, and the only way that will happen is if we start witnessing some success. I believe the Park District has put a plan in place that will deliver it. Will they need continued oversight? Damn right, and The Minot Voice won’t walk away from that task if there is a successful vote tomorrow.

As far as construction costs, I don’t believe they’re dreaming. Just this week West Fargo opened bids on a much more conservative 44,000 square foot building at a cost of $7.8 million. They are handy numbers because they are almost exactly 10% the size of what Minot’s proposing (a little alarming, I know), but if you run the multiplier, 444,000 square feet goes to $78 million, add some for land, furniture and opening costs… we get pretty damn close to that $88 million that’s been proposed. Is this a perfect comparison? No, but it is a helpful indicator does allow us to gain a bit of trust in what we’ve been told by the Park District.

Once again, thanks for your continued support of The Minot Voice, I look forward to more great discussion in the future.

Josh Wolsky
Publisher, The Minot Voice

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