Tue, July 23

Reason, trust dictate vote on city recreation center

Cottonwood voters' consideration of the city's proposed $17 million recreation center is a balancing act between reason and trust.

The reasonable thing to do is vote yes on the measure.

It's reasonable because if Cottonwood is going to provide recreation services to the community, it needs adequate facilities to do so. The city does not have such facilities.

The existing Cottonwood Recreation Center is located at 791 N. Main St. in Old Town. Originally built in 1927 as a Methodist-Episcopal Church, it was sold to Verde Baptist Church in 1938. It later became the home to Hoffman Buick and eventually was purchased by the city in the early 1980s. When the city bought it, the original plan was to level the building and use the space for downtown parking. Instead, the city council was persuaded to convert it into a rec center.

Today, it is ill equipped for the city staff in charge of the Parks and Recreation Department. It's barely suitable as a facility for the recreation services the city provides. There is, however, something quite redeeming about the basement sweatbox better known as the Old Town Gym, but even it is rattletrap.

Or, consider the Cottonwood city pool. It was built in 1979, which according to industry standards puts it at about the end of its life expectancy. It generates about $41,000 a year in revenue, yet costs nearly $100,000 annually to operate and maintain. Also consider the fact that the city has to use the gymnasiums of the local school systems for its adult and youth basketball leagues.

Cottonwood needed a new recreation complex years ago. There is nothing unreasonable about the city's request for this facility.

Now for the trust part: The city's plan, assuming voters are trusting enough to say yes, is to float a $1 million revenue bond to effectively kick-start the project. It will be repaid with revenues generated by the facility. The remaining $16 million will be repaid through sales tax proceeds, users fees, grants and a possible future increase in sales tax.

City Council members are asking for the trust of voters as much as they are asking for the facility itself. Payment for the rec center initially will come from a shifting of the portion of sales tax previously used to pay for the city's sewer plant. But that facility already is nearing capacity and within five years the city will have to address that issue. The expected cost is estimated at $20 million.

On the surface, this adds up to another increase to the city's 2.2-percent sales tax levy, although the city has not committed to that yet. Only Vice Mayor Randy Lowe has come out on record saying the city at some time will need to bump the levy by a maximum of 0.45 percent, or about 45-cents for every $100 spent. That tax hike only addresses the cost for paying for the rec center. Future sewer needs are another matter altogether.

With existing or future increases in Cottonwood's sales tax levy, Cottonwood voters always need to remember what a good deal this is for them. They are the ones who decide on whether or not to increase the tax. They're not the only ones who pay for it, though. Cottonwood has positioned itself strongly as the economic hub of the Upper Verde, if not the entire Verde Valley. Folks in Verde Village, Clarkdale, Jerome, Cornville and even Camp Verde will pay for this new rec center as much and likely more than Cottonwood residents will.

That may sound harsh, but it is reality, and something Cottonwood voters ‹ not Verde Valley consumers ‹ need to remember.

Every community should be so lucky as to have such confidence in their local economy as Cottonwood apparently does. But that doesn't change basic human nature and that is where the issue of trust comes into play. Financially speaking, there are loose ends to this project. There is also the prospect of a future hike in sales tax to pay for it. Voters need to ask themselves to what degree do they trust Cottonwood's administration and elected leadership with these loose ends.

Whatever your own balancing act on the reasonable need for such a facility and your trust in the city's fiscal management to pay for it determines the way you'll vote on this issue.

From this corner, we think the city's track record warrants such trust.

The issue of reasonable need is without question.