Community members raise concerns regarding $5.6 million recreation center project, related budget meeting

CEDAR CITY — During the Cedar City Council work meeting Wednesday, several community members brought up concerns to the council regarding their perception of how the May 12 city budget meeting was conducted, as well as the $5.6 million recreation center project the council is proposing to keep in the tentative 2020-2021 fiscal year budget.

Architect Mark Wilson presented the City Council with cost estimates and proposals for a recreation center to be added to the Cedar City Aquatic Center.

City Manager Paul Bittmenn provided some background information regarding the project’s history and said the overall project has been planned since 2008, when the city made the “conscious decision” to proceed with the aquatic portion of the center and delay building the recreational portion.

“That’s what we’re back today to discuss …  completing that recreational portion which we started looking at 12-plus years ago,” Bittmenn said.

Wilson said that in putting together the proposals for the addition to the Aquatic Center, he tried to keep in mind the needs it would be filling and address those in the plans. He went over the amenities in his proposed plan for the addition, which include three gymnasiums, a child care facility, storage areas, seating for the gymnasiums, a track, aerobic equipment and accommodations for various sports such as volleyball, pickleball, basketball and baseball.

Screenshot of the plans for a recreation center to be added to the Cedar City Aquatic Center, presented to Cedar City Council May 20, 2020 | Photo by Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City News

“As a community space, there’s a lot of other things that can be staged,” Wilson said. “You can rent this out for boutiques or conventions or banquets or all kinds of things that will accommodate those kinds of events very well.”

Director of Leisure Services Ken Neilson addressed the council in regards to the current needs of the city to provide programming for summer activities.

Neilson said currently the city does not have its own gymnasiums and rents facilities at Cedar Middle School, Canyon View Middle School and the Southern Utah Sports Academy in order to provide sports programs. He said the city cannot rent gyms from churches and is not able to use any high school gyms.

“Our gym space rental is used for both youth and adult volleyball, all the junior jazz basketball, all those events that require gym space,” he said. “We’re not able to have dodgeball or pickleball or any of those aspects because we’re not able to program that.”

Nielson said the staffing requirement for the additions of the recreation center would be one staff member to supervise the gymnasiums and two to staff the child care center.

“All we’d need is hourly staff, so it’s a matter of two individuals that are trained in that,” he said. “We’re just there to facilitate the child while mom and dad are exercising, swimming, doing whatever they’re doing in the facility. The staffing of that doesn’t really make us nervous in the operating aspect.”

Bittmenn also reviewed the proposed budgeting for furniture, fixtures and equipment for the project and explained there are several places in the process of moving forward with the project that the city can choose to back out before construction begins. They include the time before approval is granted for city staff to work on securing funding, after city staff has secured funding and when the project is put out for general contractors to bid on.

“We would come back to the council to ask the council to approve the award to the general contractor,” Bittmenn said. “At that point, again, the council could say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on proceeding.”

Cedar City Council meeting, Cedar City, Utah, May 20, 2020 | Photo by Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City News

Throughout the presentation of the plans for the project, members of the community asked several questions regarding the timeline of the project, various costs, a projected operations and maintenance budget and security systems.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, some community members addressed the council to express discontent with the discussion of the gymnasiums at the May 12 budget meeting, during which considerable mention was given to those in the community expressing opposition to the project.

Theodore Lane said he expected a formal apology from any city official who was present at the budget meeting.

“When someone in the community raises concerns, it is your jobs to listen, not to try to ‘other-ise’ them or make their concerns seem illegitimate based on a group you think they belong to,” Lane said. “This is conduct unbecoming of a city official. I would like to remind you, you are meant to serve the community.”

Dan Kidder said he was also disappointed in the conversation regarding the gymnasiums.

“You’re competing with businesses in this community. That’s shameful for any government official,” Kidder said. “It just seems like it doesn’t matter what the people say, you’re going to do what you’re going to do.”

Bruce Hughes said he expects the economic impact of COVID-19 to become far greater in the next three to four months, and that he believed the underlying issue the public has with the recreation center – and how events transpired regarding the Glacier ice rink – is the local government not considering the public’s views.

“Government is not listening to the citizens,” Hughes said. “Government is telling the citizens they know better than the citizens, and government is talking down to the citizens.”

Bobby Ennis approached the council to encourage council members to be wise with funding moving forward during the pandemic, and Mike McCoy addressed his displeasure with being specifically named during the May 12 budget meeting and being lumped in with the “hockey people” who are unhappy with the decision regarding the ice rink.

“There’s no such thing as ‘hockey people,'” McCoy said. “There’s no such thing as ice rink people. There’s no such thing as the street sweeper people or the neighborhood preservation people who don’t want apartments built in their neighborhoods. We’re just constituents.”

Council members listened to the comments but didn’t respond directly, except for Mayor Maile Wilson-Edwards, who requested copies of any written concerns submitted to City Recorder Renon Savage.

To donate, or not to donate

City Finance Director Jason Norris proposed the tentative 2020-2021 fiscal year budget to the council, and the council discussed changes to the transient room tax funds.

Cedar City Council meeting, Cedar City, Utah, May 20, 2020 | Photo by Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City News

Councilwoman Terri Hartley said the city usually gives a donation of around $30,000 to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, as well as the Utah Summer Games from the funds. She said although both those events have been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fund is not as certain, she would still like to consider making donations to those organizations.

“I was contacted by the director of the Summer Games, and he has asked if there’s any way we can consider funding part of that $30,000 that we normally have given them,” Hartley said. “They’re trying to keep their operations in tact. … They’re worried about their operation dismantling and being able to move forward with the games next year.”

Councilman Scott Phillips said the city should make a donation to both organizations if it makes a donation to one, as both organizations are required to secure their own funding.

Councilman Tyler Melling said he was uncomfortable with making those donations based on the intent of the use of the funds and without some effort on the organizations’ part to “put heads in beds.”

“I have no problem earmarking some of those funds for those organizations, but in order to feel comfortable releasing them, I would need to see some kind of plan to … bring some heads into bed,” Melling said. “Otherwise we’re not fulfilling the promise to those that are collecting those funds on our behalf.”

Councilman Craig Isom said the donations are an investment in the future.

“I support making some kind of donation to both of those that are going to be so hard hit so that we’re providing a pathway into the future,” Isom said. “They are a vital part of this community, both, and whatever we can do to help them just make it through and be in a position to be a vital force in the future, I think, is justified.”

Phillips said he also wanted to discuss the possibility of increasing the contribution to the Iron County Care Share by $4,000, as well as increasing the funds to help relocate the ice rink by $50,000.

Also during discussion of the budget, Bittmenn highlighted increases in funding for the police and fire departments and said the city is increasing wages in order to be more competitive.

“There’s money set aside in there to increase the wages of all the full-time police and fire (employees), as well as the rest of the city, to try to bring us up to date with current wage studies,” Bittmenn said, “and to put us in a market position where we’re in kind of a leader position in Iron County – to keep us in a market position where we can be competitive with other entities throughout the state.”

The council will vote on approval of the tentative budget during the next council meeting on Wednesday.

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

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