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Voters have a say in PACC's fate with sales tax ballot question

An architect's rendering of what the Perham Area Community Center's exterior might look like after proposed improvements and an expansion. (Image courtesy of BHH Partners in Perham)

Perham voters will have an important decision to make regarding the future of the Perham Area Community Center come Nov. 6.

Local ballots will include a special question on election day, asking Perham citizens to vote either for or against a half-cent sales tax that would help pay for improvements and an expansion at the PACC. The sales tax would raise up to $5.2 million over as many as 20 years to put toward the project.

Organizers have dubbed the proposed project at the PACC, the "Fit-Up." Plans call for a better utilization of space, new and improved access to the building, added family activities and expanded services.

Specifically, the Fit-Up would include an expansion for an indoor playland, party rooms, child watch area and two-story climbing wall, which PACC leaders believe would help attract new families as well as retain the families that are already members. Restrooms and a concessions area would also be added to the main level, and the lobby area would be expanded.

In addition, the front desk would be relocated, the locker rooms would be renovated, the weight room would be moved to the lower level and the pool and fitness equipment would be updated. New air conditioning would be installed, bathrooms would be added to the upper level, and the building's exterior would get a total reskin (which would be more energy-efficient and save on utility costs). New multi-use and private fitness spaces would be added, including an outdoor gym space to draw more warm-weather usage.

Proponents of the sales tax say this funding option would spread out the cost of the Fit-Up over a broader number of users who visit Perham and come to the PACC from outside city limits, instead of placing all the burden on Perham property owners through a property tax hike.

Perham City Manager Jonathan Smith said every penny raised through the sales tax would go directly to the PACC. In the past, there's been some confusion about how the proposed Hub project (remodeling and repurposing of the old high school) ties into the PACC Fit-Up, but Smith said the two projects are now completely separate.

The city found out in mid-September that a local match was no longer needed for the bonding dollars granted by the state for The Hub project, Smith said, "so now, officially, those projects have nothing to do with each other. The sales tax is solely independent, and so are the bonding dollars. The sales tax always applied to the PACC and the PACC only ... and the revenue from the sales tax would only be used for improvements at the PACC."

At first, the state was going to require a local match for the $6 million in bonding dollars for The Hub, Smith explained, and that "muddied" things up with the PACC's sales tax measure because there was a possibility that that tax would serve as the local match, if the ballot measure passed. But now that a local match is not required, the Hub bonding is no longer dependent on the sales tax passing, and the sales tax is no longer tied to the Hub in any way.

Because of the way The Hub grant was written, it's possible some of those Hub bonding dollars could still be used toward improvements at the PACC, Smith added, "but the bonding dollars would not be enough to cover both projects. They need both the sales tax and the bonding dollars to make these projects happen."

PACC leaders held multiple open forums in October to present their Fit-Up plans and address any community questions or concerns before the Nov. 6 vote. They also presented to various community groups and businesses.

PACC Director Betty Murphy said she's heard a lot of positive feedback about the proposed changes from people she sees at the PACC, but there wasn't great attendance at the public forums and it's been difficult to gauge what the overall public interest in the project might be.

"I've just been telling PACC supporters to go out and tell their friends that they support it, and to vote," she said.

Murphy said the PACC was originally built to be a "wow factor" for the community. She said maintenance staff has done "a tremendous job" of keeping up the facility over the years, but the building has reached the point where it needs more than just day-to-day upkeep and basic improvements.

The PACC was built in 1989, mostly through volunteer efforts and thanks to significant community donations of time, money and resources. A major expansion that included the elevated walking track, youth gym, water slide and more was added in 1995.

"The PACC is pretty unique for the community that we have here," Murphy said. "(The Fit-Up) would just be a nice finish to what we've already got here (in Perham), with the hospital and the new school."

A partial Q&A about the PACC Fit-Up and sales tax ballot measure is printed here. For the full Q&A, along with sample floor plans, examples of playlands and climbing walls, and other images and information, visit https://perhamareacommunitycenter.net/paccfitup/.

SIDEBAR/SIDE STORY

The nuts and bolts of it

The official sales tax question on the Nov. 6 ballot is:

"Shall the City of Perham, Minnesota (the "City"), be authorized to impose a sales and use tax of one-half of one percent to finance the expansion and betterment of the Perham Area Community Center located at 620 Third Avenue Southeast in the City?"

What gets taxed and how much is the tax?

The sales tax is 1/2 of 1 percent, increasing the current rate of 7.375 percent to 7.875 percent. This equates to 50 cents more on a $100 purchase. The items that get taxed are the same items that people currently pay taxes on, which do not include groceries, clothes, prescriptions, and other non-taxable items.

How will the sales tax affect my purchases?

A half-cent sales tax would raise the tax on a $4 purchase — a small latte, say — by 2 cents. It would add an additional 60 cents to a $120 purchase.

Who gets to vote?

Citizens who reside within the city limits of Perham.

Why does the PACC need improvements?

The PACC board conducted strategic planning in 2016 to address the future of the facility, including changes, improvements and cash flow. That strategic planning process resulted in a community survey and the proposed plan is a response to those survey results. People requested more workout space and additional programming and family activities. Also, the facility is showing its age and needs mechanical and structural upkeep. The PACC needs repairs that exceed planned expenses. Finally, the PACC needs to add services that will help attract members, sustain operations and add value to the community.

What is the estimated cost?

$5.7 million total, which includes everything from basic repairs and capital improvements to the playland to a full remodel of the current building as well as a 7,000-square-foot expansion

How is the total project being funded?

In addition to the sales tax, total project costs will be funded using grants, fundraising dollars and sponsorships.

How long will the sales tax last?

The proposed sales tax will be in effect until $5.2 million is collected, or for 20 years, whichever occurs first. The sales tax is limited to the payment of costs related to the construction of the PACC improvements and would terminate when all those costs have been paid.

Can the sales tax be used for any other project?

No. The ballot question is specific to the Perham Area Community Center. Per state statute, the physical address listed on the ballot is the only place the funds can be used.

When would construction begin?

If the sales tax is approved Nov. 6, construction would likely start in the fall of 2019.

What happens to the project if the vote fails?

Some of the main infrastructure needs may be reliant on property taxes from both the city and school district as part of their Tri-Board agreement with the PACC. Other parts of the proposal may or may not be accomplished by fundraising and/or donations.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Detroit Lakes Tribune as a reporter and magazine editor in November 2017 after several years of writing and editing at the Perham Focus. She lives in Detroit Lakes with her husband, Dan, their 3-year-old son and baby daughter, and their yellow Lab.

(218) 844-1452
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