Prospects for a second indoor hockey rink, new trail segment and improvements to one of its most prominent parks has the city of Hermantown bidding for a half-percent sales tax increase.
“It’s definitely a need,” said Marty Olson, president of the Hermantown Amateur Hockey Association, describing 326 players at youth and prep levels — many having to travel to Duluth, Carlton and other places in search of ice time as late as 9 or 10 p.m.
The tax increase would take the city's sales tax from 8.375% to 8.875%, increasing what is already one of the higher sales taxes in the state. A local-option sales tax requires approval from both the Minnesota Legislature and Hermantown voters.
“The part that’s important to us is that the community, inevitably, would decide this,” city spokesman Joe Wicklund said.
It’s still early on in the process. With state legislature approval, voters wouldn’t see the proposed increase on the ballot until November 2022. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, introduced a bill last month which has already been rolled up into a larger tax bill.
“We’re a ways out,” said John Mulder, Hermantown city administrator. “(But) we didn’t see anywhere else we could generate that kind of money — the price tag is too high to try to put on property taxes.”
The increase would raise up to $28 million, sunsetting after 20 years or until debts related to what is being called the Community Recreational Initiative are paid off.
The additional indoor sheet of ice would be built onto the existing Hermantown Arena, home to one of the state’s premier hockey programs. Olson said the association’s ability to fundraise would help determine how elaborate the facility would be.
As it stands, he’s content to relieve some of the pressures on families and players to travel for practice and skate at all hours of the day.
“What ends up happening is younger kids don’t get enough ice time,” Olson said, explaining that the use of the city’s outdoor ice rinks has become unpredictable with it sometimes being too warm or extremely cold.
The added rink would also allow Hermantown to bring in more outside competition, bolstering its ability to be a tournament site.
The other recreational projects are aimed at increasing overall community amenities for all ages. A new Hermantown-Proctor trail would run from the city’s YMCA at the Essentia Wellness Center to the border with Proctor, and ultimately connect with the Willard Munger State Trail in western Duluth.
Improvements to Fichtner Park, home to baseball and softball diamonds and the city’s Summerfest, would make it a better gathering place, sources said.
“A lot of our parks have really been geared toward youth recreational leagues,” Mulder said. “We’ve been working recently on adding features to all parks so that families can use them without necessarily being involved in organized sports.”
Mulder described playground equipment having been added to all of the city’s parks over the last five years, and trail initiatives throughout a city known for being a major commercial hub filled with stores, restaurants, and car dealerships.
The legislature no longer allows for sales-tax increases to go for city-only improvements. But Hermantown officials are confident in their pitch.
“We believe these to be of regional significance, so therefore we have a comfort level asking everybody who shops in Hermantown to help us fund these,” Wicklund said.
In 2016, Hermantown voters approved the use of existing sales tax to help construct its $17 million Wellness Center, sharing $4.5 million of the cost with St. Louis County on a project that also featured state bonding dollars and a financial commitment from Essentia.
Hermantown’s share of its sales tax is currently 1% on 8.375%. Increasing it to 1.5% is the only option, Olson said, even though sources expect some state legislators will balk at a local-option sales tax increase.
“If we can go out and fundraise for more money, we can add to the building,” Olson said. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s going to be a really nice facility. But it’s going to come down to dollars. Without sales tax dollars, these buildings have gotten so expensive, it’s not like we could fundraise on our own.”