Council re-votes on $25 million bond for new Hurricane rec center after councilman has change of heart

ST. GEORGE — Hurricane City Council members were split during a re-vote on whether to support putting a $25 million general obligation bond to a public vote after Councilman Kevin Thomas had a change of heart. 

The council initially voted unanimously at meeting on Aug. 16 to put the 20-year bond, which would be used to fund a city recreation center, on the November ballot. 

Thomas, however, changed his mind and made a motion to re-vote on the matter at their meeting on Sept. 5. 

“In our last City Council meeting when I voted to put it on the ballot, I didn’t see myself as raising anyone’s taxes. I saw it as putting it out there for the public to decide,” Thomas said, adding that he changed his mind after a number of people came to him, including a close friend, and accused him of raising taxes. 

“That was my ‘a-ha’ moment of saying, ‘What have I done on City Council? What am I doing, and am I following the Constitution that I swore an oath to defend?’ What does the Constitution give us the right to do as civic leaders, as elected officials? Do we have the right to take money from one group of people and give it to another for this kind of a purpose, for recreation? I don’t think so.” 

Hurricane council members Kevin Thomas and Cheryl Reeve at a Hurricane City Council meeting. Both members took a stance against the idea of using a general obligation bond to fund a recreation center, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 5, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Councilwoman Cheryl Reeve seconded the motion and voted “no” to putting the bond to a vote, while the rest of the council, minus Mayor John Bramall who was not in attendance, voted “yes,” keeping the bond on the ballot by a vote of 3-2. However, the council is still planning on holding a public hearing this month to get feedback on the issue.

Councilman David Larson said he felt like they did the right thing by putting the issue to the community to decide.

“As citizens, if we want these products in our community, I think it’s the right thing for our citizens to be able to put their vote out,” he said. 

Next on the agenda, City Manager Clark Fawcett discussed possible solutions for funding the operation costs of the recreation center if the bond is passed. 

The 20-year bond would be paid for through property taxes, having an estimated 2.56% tax impact on residents. However, that number should go down as more people move to the area and pay taxes, Fawcett said. 

The city has yet to determine how they would pay for the operational costs of the facility, which, based on the Washington City Community Center’s expenses, would cost between $400,000 and $500,000 a year, not including enterprise costs like power and water. 

Bryce King, recreation and leisure services director, said the estimated $500,000 in operational costs is generous since the Washington City center is around 110,000 square feet, while the Hurricane Recreation Center would be around 60,000 square feet. 

“There are going to be some major operation differences in cost and personnel and things like that compared,” King said. “So hopefully people will compare apples to apples instead of Fords and Cadillacs.”

The building’s enterprise costs would likely be covered by user fees, Fawcett said, the cost of which have yet to be determined. Any additional costs, however, would need to come from either implementing additional taxes or reallocating money in the budget. 

“People have to realize that, number one, they’re going to be hit with a property tax. … Number two, even if we don’t use any more money than what we’re already putting into, some of their tax is already going into that program,” he said. “And then if they want to go use the center they’re going to be paying a fee.”  

At least half of the estimated operational costs is already in the budget, he said, since if they open a new rec center they will shut down the city pool, giving them $281,000 a year to go toward it. 

Additionally, many of the services at the community center would be moved to the recreation center, which would allow additional funds. 

If passed, the council will have to decide how they want to fund the remaining costs, and council members seemed in agreement that they do not want to raise taxes. 

Hurricane City Council members discuss the proposed general obligation bond to fund a recreation center in Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 5, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

“There is no way that we can ask those people to come up with more taxes for operations,” Fawcett said. “It just doesn’t work, and I would never vote for it if that was the case. We have to find a way to make it work with the existing funds that we have.” 

One option the council has at their disposal is to use funds from the Recreational, Arts and Parks Cultural Funding tax, which they have already. 

Another option is to use the extra money they’ve been saving from the general fund for “upcoming projects,” which is now close to $1 million. 

The council hopes to receive pubic input on the matter at a special meeting in September. So far, the council has not received much feedback from the community supporting or opposing the bond for the rec center. 

“I thought we’d either see a really rabid group that wanted it really bad and were out there just pushing it, or we’d have a big backlash of people who didn’t want it. And through this whole process it’s been almost dead silent,” Fawcett said. “I can’t really get an assessment for it one way or another, and I hope that people will come out and state their case.”

The council will hold a public hearing on the issue on Sept. 19 at Hurricane High School to allow the community to give their input. They will also hold a public meeting on Oct. 3 to hear arguments for and against the bond.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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