St. Cloud can’t afford this boondoggle

Last night, the St. Cloud City Council held a study session prior to their regular meeting. Item #1 on the study session’s agenda was the construction of an aquatic center. Here’s one of the important details St. Cloud citizens should know about:

In 2007, the City of St. Cloud and its surrounding local government partners commissioned a feasibility study aimed at defining the services, capital improvements, and annual costs associated with a community aquatic center. A number of community stakeholders participated on the study advisory committee to gauge potential partnerships in utilizing and funding of the facility. The study indicates broad community support for the facility but projected capital costs of more than $20,000,000 for the desired amenities and programming.

I question the support for the facility, especially with that price tag on it. I don’t doubt that people would think that it’s a great-sounding idea. I’m just skeptical that lots of people would think it’s worth raising their city property taxes to build a building that doesn’t serve St. Cloud’s core functions.

I’m even more skeptical of the extent of the support for this proposed boondoggle because the city doesn’t share in the aquatic center’s profits. First, it’s questionable whether people would use the aquatic center. Second, it’s difficult to understand why St. Cloud residents would agree to a tax increase to pay for a recreational facility at a time when St. Cloud’s roads need repairing.

It’s foolish for St. Cloud to take out a loan (that’s what bonds are) to pay for a building that a nonprofit will run. It’s more foolish to think that St. Cloud would do this without some sort of revenue-sharing agreement. What’s essentially happening is that St. Cloud would take out a loan to build the building, then raise taxes to pay for the building that a) isn’t part of St. Cloud’s core responsibilities and b) will be run by a nonprofit that only benefits the nonprofit organization.

That’s more than enough justification to scrap this disaster. Unfortunately, there’s more down-side to this project:

The City will bear the costs of the exterior building upkeep and maintenance and major building maintenance and repairs.

Great. The YMCA benefits. St. Cloud taxpayers foot the bill for a building they don’t need. Taxes are raised to pay for something that St. Cloud doesn’t need.

If St. Cloud wants to spend money, it should be spent on essential services exclusively. Building and maintaining aquatic centers aren’t essential services. To take out a loan on something this frivolous, then pay that loan off by raising taxes is the height of foolishness.

Let’s hope the City Council shoots this proposal down ASAP. If they don’t, I’ll lead a campaign to defeat the councilmen and women that vote to fund this boondoggle.

Comments welcome at Let Freedom Ring.