Cedar City Council to address public concerns over leaving $5.6 million in budget for gymnasium

The Cedar City Aquatic Center, May 14, 2020 | Photo by Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City News

CEDAR CITY — During a special meeting on May 12 to discuss the city’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget, Cedar City Council members and staff spoke about keeping the multi-purpose center project in the budget despite uncertain economic conditions.

The tentative budget will be open for public comment Wednesday.

In March, the city council announced its intention to move forward with building a multi-purpose center where the Glacier Ice Rink was located at the Cedar City Aquatic Center.

Councilwoman Terri Hartley brought up the project during the budget meeting and said she felt it should still be kept in the upcoming year’s budget.

“I’m still of the opinion that we need it on the budget,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of discussion about how many points we have to stop and not build the gymnasium, but we want it in the budget in case things get back to normal.”

Hartley continued, suggesting “getting ahead” of the project so community members do not express discontent with the decision to keep the project in the budget.

“I don’t know if we might need some help with some publicity so we don’t have everyone in the world calling us and beating us up (about) why we are spending $5 million in the middle of an economic problem,” Hartley said.

Councilman Ron Adams asked who might be in opposition to the project, to which City Manager Paul Bittmenn said it might be people who want the ice rink to stay in its current location for another year. Hartley echoed this sentiment and said she had also heard of community members encouraging others to voice their opposition. Later in the meeting, she specifically said she believed supporters of the ice rink were trying to recruit others to “beat the city up.”

Councilman Scott Phillips suggested looking into where the project may increase revenue or decrease expenses in order to “say this is actually going to make it more efficient and better for our Lake on the Hills complex.”

Adams said people in the community may use the project “as a tool to stir the public up against us,” and Phillips also suggested putting an ice rink on a ballot for residents to vote on.

“All the more reason why we might want to consider putting this on a ballot initiative – the ice rink,” he said. “So we can really say that we gave an opportunity and it’s out there. I don’t know how the other council feels and how staff feels, but I know we discussed it in some of our budget meetings to look at that.”

Youth members of the community addressed the council to express support for an ice rink, Cedar City, March 4, 2020 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St George News / Cedar City News

Councilman Tyler Melling expressed support for allowing the public to vote, but added unemployment rates may affect the outcome of a vote this year.

“I’m inclined to — with anything with the ice rink regarding a ballot — just facilitate what they would like, so if they would like to put it on the ballot, fine,” Melling said.

Melling added that putting an ice rink on a ballot would be independent of other projects.

“Regarding a ballot on the rink, it would be independent of any gym proposal or the location, just if they decide that they want to put on the ballot ‘Cedar City will build a rink at x price point and bond,'” Melling said. “If they want to do that, I think we should facilitate that.”

Adams said putting an ice rink on a ballot initiative may work against the city’s plan for gymnasiums.

“They’ll say ‘okay, well (the ice rink) can stay there another year because you won’t vote on it until November and you’re not going to start anything until our season’s done,’” Adams said. “They’re going to say you can’t start the gyms until we vote on this ice rink.”

Bittmenn said the city has already announced its intention to move forward with the addition of gymnasiums to the Aquatic Center. He added that Staheli Recreation Management announced plans to start removing the ice rink equipment, something which started Saturday.

“Once they’ve moved it, what I have heard is that they’re not coming back,” Bittmenn said. “I don’t know how much faith to put in those representations because over the last eight years they’re representations haven’t always come to fruition. … If the city decides to postpone the gym construction, they will want to come back I’m pretty sure because of the location.”

Bittmenn indicated the city proposed moving the ice rink to another property owned by the city, and Staheli Recreation Management was not interested.

“They’ve made no representations to me about wanting to proceed with relocating,” he said. “The representation has to come from (the) Stahelis because they own the equipment. … It’s got to be Stahelis that, at some point, come and say ‘okay, we want to relocate,’ but they haven’t. The ball is kind of in their court.”

The possibility of the city building an ice rink, or working with a different private entity to build a new ice rink was not discussed.

Phillips discussed the agreement that Staheli Recreation Management and the city have worked on previously.

“We offered them over $3 million and, as far as I’m concerned, for whatever reasons they chose not to because we couldn’t work out the agreement,” he said.

Phillips also discussed his agreement with Hartley in regard to potential problems with publicity regarding the gymnasium project.

“We are going to have some issues from a PR standpoint in this kind of an economic situation, that we’re trying to move ahead with some gymnasiums and we’ve got to be prepared how to handle it, that’s all,” Phillips said. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, but we just need to be prepared on how to handle it.”

Hartley asked staff how they might be able to help “get ahead of it,” and Bittmenn said, although he is unsure of current interest rates, it’s not unheard of to move forward with public projects during economic uncertainty.

“It’s not uncommon in times of economic downturn for local governmental entities to do public projects in order to put money back into the local economy,” Bittmenn said.

Cedar City staff and council members discuss an ordinance regulating cannabis production and distribution, Jan. 29, 2020, Cedar City | Photo By Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City

Hartley encouraged city staff to help however possible with public relations on the project and alluded to posts on social media.

“Anything you guys can put together on the website or on leisure services, we would appreciate it,” she said. “You can bring forward some ideas and put up some PR why we are leaving it in the budget.”

Public hearings will be held for the city’s 2020-21 fiscal year budget and cost estimates for the recreation center project during the work city council meeting Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

Melling told Cedar City News on Tuesday he “did not appreciate that line of discussion.”

“I really don’t think it’s okay to discuss things like major initiatives until the public feels free to come and yell at us about it because I think that’s one of the most important parts of the public process,” Melling said. “It’s not always pleasant for elected officials, but it is very important that the public feels free to criticize us.”

Hartley told Cedar City News her intent was to ask city staff to create a place community members could go to find factual information regarding the gymnasium project.

“What I was asking city staff to do was to put someplace where there’s information where people can go get correct information,” she said. “We’re in the early stages of talking about what the gym might look like, and everybody’s out there railing on us for the money that we’re spending and making decisions, and no decisions have been made other than to allocate that in the budget if we choose to go forward.”

Hartley also told Cedar City News she would encourage community members to attend Wednesday’s council meeting in order to ask questions and receive information.

“We have a lot of places along the way that, should the economy not warrant moving forward on the gym, that we can stop the process at any time,” Hartley said. “I would invite people to tune into the meeting on YouTube to hear where we are, to hear what the plan is, hear what any exit strategies (are) if we would choose to not go forward. Right now it’s just so preliminary, we haven’t made a decision to move forward with the gym.”

Phillips told Cedar City News the ice rink and gymnasiums are two separate projects, and he doesn’t want to pit one against the other. Phillips also said in the tentative 2020-21 budget, $5.6 million is currently allocated for the gymnasiums, and $100,000 is allocated to help the ice rink relocate.

“We’re going to be discussing the tentative 2020-21 budget (Wednesday) and then it would be approved probably next Thursday,” Phillips said. “That’s the tentative budget. By law, we have to have something done by 30th of May, but before the 30th of June we have to have the final budget approved, so there’ll probably be some tweaks even after that.”

Phillips added that he feels concern regarding the current economic climate is fair but that Iron County is set up to be able to recover well from any effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I get where the concern is relative to the current economic condition, but I think that most citizens hopefully will learn that we’re in a pretty good situation as a city overall,” Phillips said.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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