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MERIT Center talks next steps after successful vote

November 16, 2012
By Deb Gau , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - Now that Marshall residents have passed a vote making planned expansions at the Minnesota Emergency Response and Industrial Training (MERIT) Center possible, the tasks of planning and design will kick into gear. Members of the MERIT Center Committee discussed possible next steps during its regular meeting Thursday.

A driving track at the MERIT Center, which could be used for a variety of training purposes, was one of two projects affected by a .5 percent general sales tax and a 1.5 percent food, beverage and lodging tax that passed on the Marshall ballot Nov. 6. The two local sales taxes would help pay for capital and operating expenses on the track.

Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig talked about some of the next steps for the driving track project. One of those steps will be to gather together leaders to focus on design and construction of the project.

"We want strong leadership on the board," Martig said. He noted that the Southwest Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission would be doing the same thing, to start the planning and design process for the regional sports center also being built with the help of the sales taxes.

Martig said the MERIT Center Committee should also consider possible partnerships in overseeing the new driving track. One clear candidate was Minnesota West Community and Technical College, as the school already works closely with the MERIT Center.

The city of Marshall would also have a role in the driving track project, Martig said. The city engineering department could help with the track's design. He suggested one or two members of the Marshall City Council be included in the planning committee as well, to help with communication. The council will need to give final approval for the track's design and other parts of the project.

Martig said the driving track could be open sometime in 2014.

Financial planning will be another aspect of the project, Martig said. Local businesses will be given some time to implement the sales tax, he said, so funds from the general sales tax would likely not start coming in until the spring of 2013. It may take a few months longer to begin collecting the food and lodging tax, he said. The city needs a time extension on its authority to implement the 1.5 percent tax, so the issue will be going back before the Minnesota Legislature in its next session.

Martig said the sales tax revenues may not be split 50-50 between the MERIT Center and sports center. The specific breakdown was another thing that needed to be worked out, as was the driving track's operating budget. However, he said, at this point he thought the track would likely have lower operating expenses than the sports center.

Committee member Tammy VanOverbeke added that the existing MERIT Center facilities shouldn't be neglected while so much attention is being put on the new track.

"I think we need to keep working to show people we're using what we have," VanOverbeke said.

However, committee members also said they were happy to see the MERIT Center expansion vote pass.

"I want to thank the team here for helping us get to this point," said Stan Brewers, MERIT Center Committee chairman.



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