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Kenyon park plan survives tax levy debate

One of a Kenyon man’s final wishes for his property to become a park moved closer to fruition Tuesday when Goodhue County Board narrowly voted to accept the donated parcels and purchase additional land nearby.

The pair of 3-to-2 votes to move forward with the park were nearly derailed by a side debate on county taxes, with some commissioners voicing reluctance to approve spending before the 2016 levy is approved.

The estate of Harold Nielsen approached the county last year about developing dozens of wooded acres west of Kenyon for park purposes. Staff has been meeting with neighbors on potential uses for the land, as well as exploring ways to connect the parcels and create road access.

A master plan for the park is included in the 2016 budget for around $25,000. County staff also recommended purchasing 10 acres of privately owned property for $30,750 to fill a gap between the parcels.

“I like the idea and I’m on board with it,” Commissioner Ron Allen said about the park. “The only issue I have is I’m worried about December when we have to vote on the levy.”

Allen said if the board is unable to reach a levy decision — capped last month at no more than a 3.33 percent increase — it will revert to last year’s amount and put the county budget “in crisis.”

Commissioner Brad Anderson, who has supported a higher levy, indicated Tuesday he is open to a 3 percent increase, likely providing enough votes for the levy to pass.

Public Works Director Greg Isakson and Finance Director Carolyn Holmsten clarified money for the master plan and land purchase mostly will come from the county’s park reserve account — not levy dollars — though the spending would deplete the fund nearly to zero.

Additional funding is available from recent land sales in Red Wing for $11,200 and possible sale of two donated parcels commissioners felt would not be needed for the park.

As part of Tuesday’s decision, the county also will swap a portion of non-contiguous parcels with a landowner to the west to connect the park to the road.

Board Chair Ted Seifert said he would not support the park plan without knowing the final 2016 levy amount. He and Commissioner Jason Majerus voted against accepting the land donation and purchasing additional property.

Nielsen, who died in 2013 at age 97, was a well-known philanthropist and Goodhue County Citizen of the Year recipient. He and wife Louise founded organizations to help the poor in Nicaragua, Mexico and locally.

Had the county not accepted the land, the parcels were to be sold and the money given to charity.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever see another opportunity like this,” said Commissioner Dan Rechtzigel, adding “We’d be kicking ourselves” if the park fell through because of a levy debate.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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