Effects of ballpark tax ripple through Hennepin Countyby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — If the impact of Target Field is being felt in the Twins attendance figures and some of the businesses around the new ballpark, it's also being felt more broadly around Hennepin County.
When county commissioners narrowly approved a county-wide sales tax to pay for about two-thirds of the $545 million park they threw in a carrot for backers of libraries and youth sports -- a promise that excess money from the ballpark tax would go to those activities.
Since 2007, the 0.15 percent tax has been applied to purchases made in Hennepin County that are not for food, clothing or automobile sales. That amounts to three cents on every $20 purchase. Or, say if you went on shopping spree and bought a new $1,000 television, a $100 food processor and bought a new bike helmet for $60, then $1.74 went towards funding the ballpark.
On a Monday morning, a few dozen people are busy at the public computers inside Hennepin County's Minneapolis Central Library.
Library coordinator Betsy Williams says the last time the central branch kept Monday hours was in December of 2006. For the last few months, excess money from the ballpark tax has paid to keep the branch open on Mondays.
"We have a collection of over two million items. We have over 300 computers. We have programming on every floor," Williams says. "And to have it open seven days a week is really a gift to the community."
Ballpark tax money is also paying for Sunday hours downtown and for 13 other county libraries.
The ballpark tax has generated a lot more money than the county expected, about $20 million more. So besides extended library hours, the county has been able make prepayments on the debt and it recently awarded nearly $2.5 million in grants for 18 youth sports projects throughout the county.
More than $600,000 in grants will fund projects at five Minneapolis parks. Don Siggelkow, general manager of the Minneapolis Park Board, says in some cases the money will be used to turn big, multipurpose fields into more specialized baseball and soccer fields. One park will likely get an artificial surface for soccer.
"I don't think these fields would be done unless that ballpark tax is in place," Siggelkow said. "What it's really allowed us to do is take a five-year look at renovating our neighborhood park fields."
Siggelkow says the park board hopes to leverage the ballpark tax money for a total of $1 million a year.
Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin added the provision to use excess sales tax income for library hours and for youth sports activities to the county resolution that authorized the tax.
At the time, opponents challenged McLaughlin. They asked: If library hours and youth sports were so important, why not just propose a tax to support them?
McLaughlin says that wouldn't have worked. He says the Legislature and the governor would not have given the county permission to create a tax just for libraries and youth sports.
"We didn't have a revenue stream," he said. "We had to have a tax that would generate the money to keep the libraries open or to help build these youth sports facilities."
If criticism of the ballpark tax has muted since its approval in 2006, it hasn't disappeared. County Commissioner Gail Dorfman says she's not against youth sports, libraries or even the Twins. But, she says, the deal was better for the Twins than it was for the public.
"I still feel very strongly that we have to be more selective about the public investments we make and how we spend taxpayer dollars," Dorfman said. "I did not support, and I still think it was a bad decision to ask the taxpayers of Hennepin County to ante up almost $400 million for the new stadium."
Despite her objection to the way in which the ballpark was funded, Dorfman says she hopes Target Field will be a catalyst for more economic development for the surrounding area.
The county is not the only public entity spending money on Target Field. The city of Minneapolis has contributed $1.6 million in infrastructure improvements around the ballpark.
City officials say the city should make about $2.5 million from a tax on ticket sales at Target Field.
- Morning Edition, 05/19/2010, 7:45 a.m.