NORTH MANKATO — The North Mankato City Council is looking to stretch every dollar it receives from a local option sales tax.

The council will approve a resolution during its public meeting Tuesday that would treat sales tax funding as a last-ditch option to pay for a proposed sports complex at Caswell Park. The policy sets requirements for how sales tax dollars can be used as matching funding for other grants as well as reporting requirements in the city's annual budget proposal.

The resolution comes as North Mankato staff finalize plans for the sports complex, which has been in discussion for years. At least one resident has come before the council in recent weeks to discuss just how much sales tax funding will go toward the project.

In recent years, the city hoped to partner with Mankato and other nearby communities to create an indoor recreational center, but the topic has gained renewed interest over the past few months as Minnesota State University moved forward with a $4 million inflatable dome on campus.

North Mankato has laid the groundwork for some funding over the past few years. In 2017, lawmakers approved the city's request to collect up to $9 million over a 20-year period in local sales taxes to go toward various infrastructure needs.

This is the second time over the past decade North Mankato has requested such funding. In the past, that money has been used for a soccer field complex at Caswell Park, a Taylor Library expansion and several other infrastructure needs. The city's latest projects could include future improvements to Taylor Library, the sports complex, major projects at Benson Park, some flood mitigation work and even some downtown improvements, should the council wish it.

North Mankato won't be able to use any of its sales tax money until next year, though council members will likely discuss potential projects in the coming months. City staff plan to review the sales tax funding with the council at a work session later this month.

Resident Barb Church asked the council in recent weeks during public comment periods to consider putting in place a process to decide how that money gets spent. Though the city has already has a rough process in place, Church argued North Mankato needed to be more rigorous in how it chooses to spend sales tax dollars before deciding which groups or projects get funded.

"I think it's very important for this council to have in place criteria, process, forms, those kinds of things before you start listening," Church said during the Jan. 7 meeting.

North Mankato Mayor Mark Dehen said the council has passed similar ordinances in the past that essentially makes the sales tax money the "last dollars in," meaning the city will seek funding from other outside sources first as sales tax funding can be used for a variety of other funds.

Dehen said last week the city won't proceed with building a new sports complex at Caswell if the recreational center can't sustain itself.

"We're not going to go to the property tax owners, the citizens, and ask them to pay property taxes to operate this," he said.

The North Mankato City Council will likely review sports complex plans at a Jan. 28 work session and sign off on two legislative requests related to the project on Feb. 4.  North Mankato plans to seek public works dollars from the Minnesota Legislature to renovate Caswell Park's softball facilities as part of the new sports complex, which could start construction as early as 2021.

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