Devils Lake voters defeat sales tax for recreation center

DEVILS LAKE - The unofficial results of a special election Tuesday handed supporters of a proposed $19.5 million activities and recreation center a second disappointing blow.The measure asking for a half-cent sales tax to pay for the 70,000-squar...
An artist's rendering shows the inside of the proposed Lake Area Activity and Recreation Center in Devils Lake. Residents will vote March 13 on a half-cent sales tax increase that will pay for the facility. (JLG Architects)

DEVILS LAKE - The unofficial results of a special election Tuesday handed supporters of a proposed $19.5 million activities and recreation center a second disappointing blow.

The measure asking for a half-cent sales tax to pay for the 70,000-square-foot Lake Area Activity and Recreation Center was defeated by a vote of 766 to 444.

Voters defeated a similar proposal by just 75 votes in 2014. That plan called for building a recreation center at Lake Region Community College along with a separate convention center at the former Wal-Mart location.

The latest two-story center - complete with a pool, courts, exercise areas and other amenities - was to be built on the city's north end near both the high school and college.

Mayor Dick Johnson said Tuesday night the city now will head back to the drawing board.

"Everybody is going to have to take a step back like we did the first time," Johnson said. "We're going to have to let the dust settle a little bit and see what was good about it and what people didn't like about it."

Several public input meetings were held in advance of the vote, and earlier surveys had shown 70 percent of the residents were in favor of building a recreation center in this city of 7,300.

Johnson said planners next will reevaluate what the public really wants in an activities and recreation center.

"I don't know, is it the price?" he said. "We've tried it twice now, and we've been unsuccessful. If it's the price tag, we need to find out what features people really want and what price tag they are willing to support."

Infrastructure

Voters did approve a separate measure for a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for the city's infrastructure needs.

The tax is expected to raise an additional $400,000 each year to pay for upkeep on roads, streets, sidewalks and water and sewer lines throughout the city.

"We feel really happy about that because it gives us the opportunity to do a lot of infrastructure work that has been put on hold," Johnson said. "We have cut back a little because funding and bid costs have gone up. This will give the city a chance to catch up and work on our long-term plan to make sure we can do our maintenance on time."

The mayor said the city Engineering Department recently developed a comprehensive 30-year infrastructure plan.

"This is going to help us get that accomplished, plus a number of different projects we've been working on such as the downtown and the west viaduct that's being replaced."

In other early results Tuesday, Shane Hamre came out on top in a tight race to fill Ben Sanders' unexpired two-year term on the Devils Lake City Commission. In the unofficial vote count, Hamre received 473 votes to lead Rob Hach with 462 votes. A third candidate, Eric Kaeding, received 220 votes.