Cedar City Council votes to keep recreation center in next year’s budget

CEDAR CITY— The Cedar City Council approved the city’s tentative 2020-21 fiscal year budget, which included just over $6 million for the recreation center project, during Wednesday’s council meeting.

City Finance Director Jason Norris explained a few of the modifications to the tentative budget from what was presented at the May 20 council meeting. Some of the changes include increasing a contribution to the Iron County Care and Share from $6,000 to $10,000; contributing $15,000 to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, as well as to the Utah Summer Games, from the Transient Room Tax fund; and increasing the amount for adding a recreation center to the Aquatic Center from $5.8 million to $6.2 million.

The council voted to approve the tentative 2020-21 budget.

During the May 20 meeting, architect Mark Wilson presented plans and cost estimates for the recreation center to the council, and approval for the plans was considered Wednesday.

Councilman Scott Phillips said when the project was being discussed earlier in the year, the world was very different than it is now. Phillips said he still feels the gyms should be built but does not want to move forward with the project without more information about it. He said he would also like to have time to see where the city will be economically through the summer and fall.

“We need to have a feasibility study done on this and talk about the usage and the need, we need to talk about the operations and maintenance, and we need to talk about what we think we can generate and what we might not,” Phillips said. “I doubt this will ever be a profit-making entity, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need it in our community. I don’t think we should move ahead on the bidding and construction and that process at this time. … I want to see these gymnasiums built, but I don’t think now is the time.”

Councilwoman Terri Hartley said she also feels more information should be gathered and the economic climate should be considered in decision-making, but she would like to move forward with looking at funding options and further architectural planning.

“We want to hit the pause button, but we have already contracted with the architect,” Hartley said. “I would be in favor of him continuing through that process and then re-evaluate. I want to see what we predict the operating and maintenance is going to be. … I would like to see that, a little more detail on what our programming is and what kind of revenues (are possible).”

Councilman Craig Isom said he has worked with several businesses in trying to keep them afloat during the pandemic, and that “there is an incredible resiliency in our small businesses.” Isom said he feels small businesses should be supported in order to help Cedar City recover from economic hardship, and although he still wants the process to continue forward with the recreation center, he would also like to see more information.

“I don’t want to press the brakes too hard. I am willing to pause,” Isom said. “I really believe that this kind of nearly shovel-ready building opportunity will be a boon to our economy and I believe it will be a boon to our citizenry. … I want to watch it proceed very carefully.”

Councilman Ron Adams said he feels it’s important to move forward with the process the city has, which “is not going to turn a shovel tomorrow.” Adams said the process includes obtaining more information and getting more architectural drawings, and it takes a while to get all the information. He acknowledged the uncertainty regarding the economy and said by the time enough information is gathered in order to make a decision on building the recreation center the council would be able to make a wise decision based on the information and current economic circumstances.

“There are some things that we need to see that we haven’t seen yet, and I think they’ll come out as we go through the process. I think it’s wise to put in the budget,” Adams said. “We work hard to provide this information and to have it available, and it’s out there if you want to find it. … We appreciate the community and their desire to be involved in our process. We seek for the facts as well to get as many facts as we can find to make decisions.”

Councilman Tyler Melling said in his interactions with community members, he has seen three prominent perspectives on the recreation center project: Some do not want gymnasiums at all, some support the project but do not feel now is the right time, and some feel it should be placed on a ballot. Melling said if the city is going to spend money on projects that do not generate profit, there could be other projects that benefit a larger portion of the community.

“I would be inclined to support any measure that would put this on a ballot, or table this at least for some time,” Melling said. “By tabling it, it does not address the concerns of those that would like to vote on it, but it does address the concerns of those who are worried about effects on the economy.”

Several public comments were made during the discussion as well.

Milt McLelland said several private and locally owned businesses in Cedar City would likely suffer as a result of the recreation center being built, and that the project should be put on a ballot.

“Fighting with the city is not what citizens are supposed to be doing. We’re supposed to be running our businesses. But if you install CrossFit equipment, gym equipment and all these other things, all of the sudden every business in town that’s privately owned now is competing with the city,” McLelland said. “That’s not okay. That’s not what you were elected to do.”

Dan Kidder also said the project should be put on a ballot.

“I believe for a project this large with a debt this high, the council should seek input from the votes as to whether they desire such a facility,” Kidder said. “Many of you are convinced the voters want this facility; I am hearing quite the opposite. Help us settle this debate once and for all and postpone this project until the economy improves, and also place it on the ballot this November for citizens of this city to consider the merits and the drawbacks of such an endeavor.”

Stephen Gwin said many community members feel the government is overreaching and there is a lot of confusion about the process of moving forward.

“There’s a lot of other information that the citizens want to know and we don’t seem to have access to,” Gwin said. “I would like to ask if we could find a way to make sure that correct information is out there. … If we’re going to spend this money, and it’s going to end up like the Aquatic Center — costing us an extra $400,000 a year in the hole — I’m okay with that if the people say they’re okay with that.”

Other public comments included community members asking for the project to be on a ballot, as well as the desire to see more efforts in working with the school district, concern for small businesses in Cedar City, looking for funding options and better communication between the city and residents.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the cost estimates and drawings from Mark Wilson, under the condition more information about the project is gathered and the decision-making process does not move forward until all the desired information is acquired.

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

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