Public raises concerns about $25 million bond for Hurricane Recreation Center at public hearing

ST. GEORGE — The City of Hurricane held a public hearing Thursday night to discuss a $25 million general obligation bond to fund a recreation center in town. 

Dozens of residents came forward to share their opinion at the meeting, which took place in the Hurricane High School auditorium.  

The city council initially voted unanimously to include the 20-year bond on the November ballot in August. They re-voted on it Sept. 6 after Councilman Kevin Thomas changed his stance. 

Many of Thomas’ concerns about the increase in property taxes were echoed at the public hearing, at which the majority of the commenters were opposed to approving the bond for the rec center. 

If approved, the 75,000-square-foot rec center would be built on the corner of 200 West and State Street and would include several gyms, a lap pool, a leisure pool, cardio and weight rooms, an outdoor splash pad, racquetball, exercise studios, an indoor track and a ninja course. 

The Hurricane City Council listens to the public’s concerns regarding a $25 million bond to fund a recreation center in Hurricane at a special Hurricane City Council Meeting at Hurricane High School, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 19, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

“Our focus from the beginning was to create awesome recreational and cultural experiences for our family now and for future generations,” Bryce King, Hurricane recreation and leisure services director, said. 

Scott Gilbert, an architect with CRSA Architecture who performed the feasibility study for the project, said they estimate the construction of the building would cost around $24 million. 

The operating costs for the center are estimated to be around $1.6 million per year, while the revenue generated is expected to be about $1.2 million, leaving the city to subsidize over $421,000 a year. 

The costs are estimated based on similar rec centers in other nearby towns, including Washington City, Moab, Durango and Draper. 

Many of those present at the meeting were opposed to raising property taxes for the center. The council calculated that the average tax increase to homeowners would be $152.95 a year, based on an average property value of $280,000. 

In addition to the tax increase, the cost to use the rec center would be $5 per day or $40 a month for a family membership. Those coming from out of town could obtain a family membership for $50 a month. 

At Thursday’s hearing, one resident pointed out that Hurricane residents will often pay more to use the rec center than those coming from out of town, seeing as a nonresident could purchase a pass for $600 a year, while a resident, who would pay an estimate of $150 in property taxes in addition to their $480 for a year membership, would pay $630. 

Tom Hirschi speaks out against the $25 million bond to fund a recreation center in Hurricane at a special Hurricane City Council Meeting at Hurricane High School, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 19, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Former Hurricane Mayor Tom Hirschi expressed a number of concerns regarding the center, including the city’s plans for managing parking and traffic, funding of operational costs and the center competing with private enterprise. 

“Do we as a city want to be competing against private enterprise? Not me. I don’t think so,” Hirschi said. 

Many others in attendance echoed his concern for the rec center’s potential to hurt local gyms and other athletic businesses. 

“I just don’t feel like I want my tax dollars to go to anything that is hurting a private business that somebody could have or already does have,” local teacher Todd Furse said. “And that’s where I think we need to be really careful not to step on the private sector’s toes.” 

Local entrepreneur and fitness studio owner Michelle Ennis said her business was directly affected by the Hurricane Community Center when it opened, making it difficult for her to retain customers and hire employees once the larger programs started. 

“As my fitness program changed and evolved, I found that the city was also offering more and more programs that directly competed with my fitness studio,” she said. “I am extremely concerned about the city creating their own fitness program to directly compete with those other businesses.” 

Drew Ellerman speaks shares his opinion on the $25 million bond to fund a recreation center in Hurricane at a special Hurricane City Council Meeting at Hurricane High School, Hurricane, Utah, Sept. 19, 2019 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

A number of people also came forward saying that they don’t think a rec center of this size is necessary in Hurricane but expressed that they would like to see the city pool improved. 

Not all of the comments were in opposition, however. Resident Rod Mills said he believes the benefits to building the center far outweigh the negatives. 

“I think we are way downgrading the positive impact and way upgrading the negative impact,” he said. “There are benefits involving our community as it relates to crime. There are benefits to our community as it relates to revenue. Although yes, this will cost all of us some money, absolutely true. The upgrade in our athletic facilities for our school-aged children is enormous. It cannot be measured in dollars.”

Hurricane resident and assistant professor of recreation and sport management at Dixie State University Joseph Lovell said the surrounding communities with rec centers are often better off for it, even though they may cost taxpayers. 

“We need to look at this more as an investment rather than all the negative issues that come along with it. We’re investing in our community. We are growing. Are we meeting the needs of that growth?” he asked. 

The Hurricane City Council will hold another 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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