This Letter to the Editor was submitted and ran in last week's edition of the Franklin Favorite; however, the byline was accidentally omitted. The newspaper regrets this error.
There's been a lot of public discussion over the past few weeks regarding the proposed Aquatic and Community Center. Even though this is a city initiative, I've been asked for my opinion, several times in recent weeks, so I feel compelled to share some thoughts.
At first blush, this is an exciting idea, which invites support and enthusiasm, as anyone would expect. Who wouldn't want a facility like this in our community? But those of us entrusted with decision-making, on behalf of our citizens, have to make these kinds of decisions based on facts and not feelings. There's important information, which needs to be considered before any action is taken by the city. Newly proposed taxes to subsidize this project, which is not an insignificant topic for discussion, are expected to generate about $1.4 million annually, by year five.
The proposed project estimates annual revenues of $3.3 million by year five, including the revenue from new restaurant and hotel taxes. So, after accounting for the new tax revenue, the facility must still generate nearly $37,000 per week, including $10,000 per week from the convention center, to meet the annual financial projections. This seems extremely optimistic. Those of us in these jobs must ask the "what if" question, for ourselves, and on behalf of the taxpayer? What if it doesn't produce the needed annual income? Where would the money come from to meet the obligations?
For perspective, annual revenue to the county from real estate property tax is just over $1million. The County's occupational tax generates barely $2 million annually. The City would have similar sources of revenue. So, if the Aquatic Center didn't meet revenue projections, even by as little as 10 to 20 percent, significant increases in taxes would be required to make up the deficit. To be frank and honest with taxpayers, this must be said out loud. Additionally, I have a couple of personal thoughts regarding the scope of the project. I don't believe we, in government, should do what the private sector can, and will do, if the market exists. This proposed facility includes a fitness area, gymnasium, and convention center.
We have at least three privately operated fitness facilities already here in Franklin. We have multiple gyms in the community, with many of them underutilized each day. And, the market is just now ripening for private opportunities for hotel and convention center-type business. In my opinion, we, the government, need to stay out of these businesses.
Having said this, I understand the value and economic rationale of "packaging" all this into an Aquatic Center, but we should examine this project, without including the parts that compete with private enterprise.
Finally, my point here is not to take exception with my friends in city government nor to discourage innovation and new ideas. But this is just too big a deal and too much money for such a large leap of faith. Stepping out on faith is understandable when planting a church or starting up a new business or taking a different job and moving your family half-way across the country ... but in government, we generally need to make decisions on facts and figures, and on what we know to be safe and certain ... we shouldn't take many risks when it involves taxpayers' dollars.
I believe, in it's present form, this project is too risky for our taxpayers and should be tabled until a significantly scaled down version becomes more viable.
Simpson County Judge/Executive