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South St. Paul last week got the seal of approval of voters for its park plan, opening the door for what would be the first major expansion of the city's parks system in decades.
City officials said 57 percent of those who turned out for the special referendum on Feb. 11 were in favor of the plan to issue $10 million in bonds to help finance a multiuse park and new sports fields and to refurbish Wakota Civic Arena.
For the owner of a South St. Paul home valued at $150,000, the average in town, the higher tax rate means a tax bill of about $897 - a $98 increase from last year's tax bill of about $799, according to city finance director Michelle Pietrick.
Director of Parks and Recreation Chris Esser said the referendum's passage signaled voters had embraced the proposals outlined in the city's 2005 park master plan.
After waiting out the recession, city officials decided the time was right to put the referendum to voters, even though the results of a resident survey showed only lukewarm support for the parks plan.
"When projects need to happen, for any city projects - whether it's street or sewers, public safety, parks projects - a lot of that depends on the existing tax base," Esser said. "With the dollar amount involved in the parks master plan and what we were looking to accomplish, we knew that would not be solely supported by property taxes."
In the months after the survey, a group of supporters of the parks referendum calling themselves Revitalize Recreation SSP sprang up, going door-to-door sharing information and volunteering to help the effort, Esser said.
"That reaffirmed from the community survey that we have a group of residents out in town that are willing to stick their necks out," he said.
According to Esser, officials will next hold three open houses to obtain public feedback on the plan, which will include building soccer and football fields at McMorrow Field, overhauling the 51-year-old ice arena's refrigeration system and continuing the development of Kaposia Landing, a reclaimed former landfill site on the banks of the Mississippi River.
After all is said and done, Esser said, the new park at Kaposia will occupy 87 acres and have four lighted softball fields, a baseball diamond with lights, two playgrounds, picnic areas and a performance pavilion.
Improvements to the ice arena, which include remodeling and expanding locker rooms and overhauling the rink's refrigeration system, will begin in May and should wrap up by the fall, officials said.
Construction of the playing fields at McMorrow Field should start by the end of the year, they said.
Libor Jany · 651-925-5033