St. Michael mayor Jerry Zachman started the meeting off and directed his comments at the full audience.
“We know how all of you feel and what your dilemma is, but tonight the two councils are here to discuss with each other. We don’t need much input from hockey families tonight,” he said.
With that, the councils jumped right onto task. While both councils agree with the idea of building a new ice arena in principle, both are also clear that the money isn’t in the budget, and raising taxes beyond what they already must isn’t very appealing either.
St. Michael City Council member Kevin Kasel explained; “This is a large capital expense and the impact for us (St. Michael), is half of what it is for Albertville residents. This isn’t an easy fix.”
St. Michael City Administrator Bob Derus followed that up by sharing that the city of St. Michael “may already be passing a 5 percent tax increase [in 2012] without this project.”
Albertville City Administrator Larry Kruse agreed, and explained that the city of Albertville is “already running a bare bones budget. There is no extra fat in essential services so anything we need for this will have to come through taxes.”
St. Michael Council Member Joe Marx shook his head, “Timing is off here. It’s easier to do these things during growth times. We just don’t have anything in the fund right now.”
The St. Michael-Albertville School District has been clear about their intentions and their own financial situation and “that has to be considered.” Kruse said.
Albertville City Council member John Vetsch has been adamant about the schools involvement all along and Monday night was no different. “The school has an operating budget of $38 million and can’t squeak out $15,000?”
Kasel corrected Vetsch’s thinking by reminding him that “school funds are allocated for certain funds and services. That’s a pretty flippant comment for someone who doesn’t understand school finance.”
Youth Hockey parent Jane Helgestad arose after waving her hand several times and while Zachman said “the meeting is for the councils to discuss,” she continued, “We have two really great high school teams with booster clubs that could be asked for money.”
That brought the conversation to a fundraising goal put in place by the Youth Hockey Association, a target it needs to have up front prior to moving forward on the project
Derus called it, “the $500,000 gorilla in the room." Larry Sorenson from the Albertville City Council explained “without a time frame or dollar amount, no target – it’s tough to fundraise.”
Youth Hockey president, Scott Berning was quick to point out that “$500,000 was my number. We’re open on it, but it was the number I suggested.”
Albertville Council Member Jillian Schommer asked about fundraising. “Can the entire community and both cities fundraise here?”
Kasel was quick to answer. “Youth Hockey needs to lead this effort,” and Derus followed up by reminding all “cities don’t fundraise. We have taxes.”
Even after initial payments are made, Kruse reminded the councils to “be prepared. If operations don’t go how they hope we need to be prepared to cover youth hockey’s portion of the payments.”
For the first five years of payments, youth hockey would be asked for a $40,000 contribution that could be paid simply by adding on an additional $100/payment/per hockey family charge. After the first five years though, “our organization is going to be fundraise-centric,” Berning said.
But Derus questioned any raise in tax dollars to pay for an expansion.
“The question here is, are our councils in support of raising taxes to do this when 80-90 percent of our residents are non-hockey families, and maybe won’t agree?”
The current proposals show that St. Michael residents would see a $11 tax and Albertville would see $22 for the ice arena only. The reason for the disparity? St. Michael has twice as many households.
“We also need to consider how this will affect our businesses.” Marx said. “They pay a different tax rate to keep our residents taxes down. Some businesses are thriving, but some are not.”
The meeting closed with a consensus for both councils to run through the numbers again without school contribution, and also altering the youth hockey contributions.
“We need to run through all the questions and answers this time.” Albertville Council Member Dan Wagner said.
Sorenson agreed, “We want to do this right with all the scenarios laid out.”
The St. Michael City Council meets a 7 p.m.Tuesday, April 26. The Albertville City Council meets again on Monday, May 2 at 7 p.m. The next arena board meeting is Monday, May 9.