Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Blame the building

In the previous week's editorial, Mike Bailey chucks a petard over at the camp of Centre critics.

Most recreational endeavors do not pay for themselves. Swimming pools, for example, routinely lose money...The same could be said for other municipally funded recreational endeavors. A municipal golf course seldom pays its own way because cities tend to keep the greens fees lower than private courses to enable local residents to play. (source: Elgin Courier 3/26/06)

Isn't it enough that the city spends tens of millions of dollars constructing such facilities? Let's just take golf courses, for example: Just the first phase of the Highlands of Elgin golf course cost $7.5M. Second phase? $9M. And the city has agreed to give Bowes Creek $7M to build a golf course in their subdivision. That's $23.5M right there. We spend a tremendous amount of money to build these facilities. Isn't that enough of a subsidy? Must we also operate them at a loss? And for whose benefit? It doesn't seem financially prudent or fair, if you ask me.

Lords and Wing parks generate very little money for the city and cost huge amounts of tax dollars in upkeep and maintenance, playground equipment, labor, etc. Yet no one suggests that we should sell the parks...

I think the difference is that parks are open to everybody at no cost. The Centre if it was run by a nonprofit, as I understand it--at least as far as property tax in Illinois is concerned, would not even be granted tax-exempt status because it doesn't serve everybody, only its members and those who can pay the fee. Unless it had a fee waiver system in place, the State of Illinois would not consider it a charity.

Parks and recreational opportunities are amenities for the community and are subsidized by the taxpayers in this and every other city. So are many other amenities. Libraries don't pay for themselves. Taxpayers subsidize them. Neither do schools, and neither will The Centre.

We would not want to be without the library, the parks or the schools simply because they don't pay for themselves. Same with The Centre.

I think the difference here is that parks schools and libraries have dedicated revenue streams, specifically allocated to them by taxpayers. When they want to build a new library or build new school buildings, they put it on the ballot and take their campaign to the people. With the Centre, not only was this not specifically allocated by taxpayers, but the city council resisted every attempt to put it on the ballot, probably realizing that they would not win approval from the people.
Mistakes were made. The building is too large to be efficient and has too many open areas that are costly to heat and cool and cannot be programmed to produce revenue.
When you've run out of people to blame and don't want to blame yourself, blame the building. Classic. It's just surprising that Mr. Bailey, one of our watchmen, should go for it.
But The Centre probably will never pay for itself, and any promise that it would may have been the biggest mistake of all.
Well up to recently, that was a big mistake. But I think the bigger mistake would be for the people of Elgin to decide that losses are acceptable.

Every year that the Centre loses a million dollars is another year that a worthy cause in this city will not get the money it deserves. Losses at the Centre must not be tolerated. City officials must not be allowed to get away with blaming the building for their own failure to properly manage the businesses they have gotten themselves into.


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