Joseph Plumb: Minot's Recreation Center Plan Is A Bad Idea

When I was growing up, we didn’t have many things.  We had what we needed, but rarely got what we wanted.  I always dreamed of having the greatest stereo system that money could buy.   I love music, and I love it loud.  However, with my mother working 3 jobs, I was lucky to get a battery powered radio.  When I got to college, that urge still was with me.  So I went to Sears, got a credit card, and bought the nicest stereo system on the shelf.  I was the highlight of our dorm!  Then reality set it, and the bills started coming.  I started using financial aid to pay my Sears card, and it spiraled down from there.  I finally had to reach out for my Mother’s help.  I paid her back, but it took more years than I can remember.

The Minot Park District is now sitting where I was when I was growing up.  They want the BOSE of recreation centers.  The best in the nation.  It all sounds very exciting. . . until you put the pen to paper to figure out the numbers.  When it’s all laid out, anyone with common sense will see that this project cannot, and will not succeed financially.  And when that happens, the Park District will be begging their mother, (you and I) to bail them out with more taxes.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#000000″ txt_color=”#ffffff”]…a reduction of about $220/year in property tax for Minot residents is the proposal.  Not a bad break.  However, an additional 1% sales tax, WITHOUT A SUNSET (they don’t tell you that), will cost the residents of Minot for the rest of their existence in this town.  8.5% sales tax.  Just for comparison, Bismarck is at 6.5% and Williston at 7%.[/mks_pullquote]

First of all, $88 million is the proposed cost.  At 450,000 square feet, that’s $195/square foot.  Make a few calls to any local contractor, and you will find out that the average cost for commercial construction in our community is at about $300/square foot.  The ARC in Williston cost $299/square foot to build.  So the Magic City must have some magic in their hats to get it built for that cheap.

Secondly, $88 million is only for the facility.  What about land purchase, site prep and infrastructure for the 30 acres it will take?  When you ask the park district where this will go, their prepared response is, “We don’t know yet.”  Seriously?  You want to sell a multi-million dollar project to the people, but you have no idea where it’s going?  Please.  You know where it’s going.  Please tell us where it’s going, and how you are paying for it.

Thirdly, a reduction of about $220/year in property tax for Minot residents is the proposal.  Not a bad break.  However, an additional 1% sales tax, without a sunset (they don’t tell you that), will cost the residents of Minot for the rest of their existence in this town.  8.5% sales tax.  Just for comparison, Bismarck is at 6.5% and Williston at 7%.

Fourth, the proposed staffing structure for the MARC is to have 20 full-time staff and 100 part-time employees.  This is a full-time equivalent of 58.  Are you kidding me?  450,000 square feet, with 58 FTE’s?  That just doesn’t make sense.

Lastly, and most importantly.  Our community needs flood control.  Not a single person in this town can deny that.  Yes, ½ cent of our sales tax currently goes towards that.  Imagine how much faster it could be completed if 1.5 cents of our sales tax went towards it?  It looks like we will not be getting $100 million in flood control money from the state, as previously promised by our governor.  We have two giant holes in the ground downtown.  The city wants a new convention center someday.  The jail needs $40 million more.  The airport continues to grow. We will need more schools sooner than later.  Are you going to vote for another 1% when that happens?

No one can see into the future, but common sense tells me the following:  If you vote yes for this project, and it goes through, it will take 3 years before completion.  It will cost more than $88 million.  The outlook is for the park district to make an additional $6 million/year from this proposal.  Let’s assume that by some miracle they get it built for a total cost of $100 million. (Trust me, it will cost at least that.)  That puts their bond payment at just over $6 million/year.

They are already over budget!  They won’t make the payment.  They will need more money.  The people will not vote for more sales tax for a failing project.  Guess how they get the money to avoid defaulting?  Property tax, from yours and your mother’s pocket.  Don’t be fooled by the pomp and circumstance of a glorious vanity project.

Let’s pay for our priorities before we buy that BOSE stereo system.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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