MANKATO — It won't happen overnight, but the sales tax extensions approved by voters in Mankato and North Mankato are expected to bring dramatic additions to the cities' amenities while also addressing more mundane repairs to city infrastructure.
The $47 million in Mankato projects and $15 million in North Mankato projects authorized by the extension of the half-percent taxes could leverage public and private matching funds that would potentially double the spending.
Nearly 73 percent of North Mankato voters approved the extension (4,991 to 1,853), which they first approved in 2006. Mankatoans also didn't hesitate to extend its tax with 72 percent support (13,457 to 5,249.)
Some major projects could begin as soon as 2018 but others are expected to wait several more years. Before anything can happen, the cities will need to get final approval from the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton — a likelihood given the overwhelming local support shown Tuesday night.
The dream of up to $45 million in new sports and recreation facilities, including possibly a large multi-sport complex, energized space-constrained youth sports organizations to push hard for the extension. Business leaders, who said those sorts of amenities were important to attracting and retaining workers, were also on board. New construction could include some combination of a swimming/diving complex, a hockey arena, a field house, a sports bubble and a community gym.
In Mankato, the council also is looking to the sales tax to help cover the cost of a backlog of projects at existing parks, recommended modernization of the flood control network, water quality improvements, airport projects and more.
Voters, citing the relatively small size of the tax and the fact that it's not a new burden, were content to see it continue.
"We're actually used to it," said Andrea Bruns of Mankato. "Why not continue doing something good with it?"
It wasn't unanimous, of course, and opposition was based on an obvious objection.
"We pay enough taxes already," said Lisa Bowes of Mankato after voting against the extension.
"We're founded on that — ever since that party in Boston," added her husband, Mike Bowes.
In North Mankato, potential improvements include new facilities and features at Benson, Bluff and Spring Lake parks, along with beautification and pedestrian improvements in the Belgrade Avenue business district.
Other possibilities include erosion control and flood-system fixes, new hiking/biking trails, additional expansion of the city library and possibly an indoor sports complex, most likely adjacent to the Caswell Park softball complex.
North Mankato voter Kelly Huggins said the promise of more trails and park improvements prompted a yes vote from her.
"That's one of the reasons I live in North Mankato, I love all the parks" Huggins said. "And I know my taxes go toward it, and I'm willing to pay."