Cedar City approves budget, keeping new recreation center despite opposition

In this January 2020 file photo, Cedar City staff and council members discuss an ordinance, Jan. 29, 2020, Cedar City | Photo By Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City

CEDAR CITY — The Cedar City Council approved the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget, which included $6.2 million for the recreation center project as well as a grant program to aid small businesses recovering from affects of the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday.

The 2020-2021 fiscal year budget was approved 4-1.

Councilman Scott Phillips said he still held the views he expressed during the June 3 work meeting.

“I don’t think this is the right time,” Phillips said in regard to the recreation center. “If it is a good project, I think it’ll be a good project a year from now. I would like us to seriously consider pulling this from the 2021 budget and allowing us to come back at a later time, but continue to follow through with the contract with Mr. Wilson (an architect) on completing the information so we have an idea of what the cost might be, as well as the needs assessment, the operations and maintenance, and the usage of the building.”

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

Councilman Tyler Melling said he also felt it should be taken out of the budget.

“If, once we have all the information, it is still a good project, we can add it either to next year’s budget or amend this next fiscal year’s budget,” Melling said.

Councilman Craig Isom said the project should remain in the budget in order to continue gathering information.

“I think we need to finish gathering information, with this in our budget,” Isom said. “I think if you pull this, you pull out from under our staff the motivation to go after borrowing rights, to get us all the information we need. I have complete confidence in this City Council to do the right thing ultimately.”

Councilwoman Terri Hartley said the council began considering this project before the pandemic, and the council is still trying to gather information.

“At that time, we talked about a process of gathering information, analyzing it and deciding if we could do it this year what it was going to cost, what kind of programming, what kind of operations and maintenance,” Hartley said. “We’re still in the process of gathering. I would be in favor of continuing that process. I would be in favor of leaving it in the budget. I don’t feel a need for us to change direction at this time.”

Councilman Ron Adams said he did not see a reason to take the project out of the budget at this time, and did not want to vote against the entire budget “when we have the ability to remove it at any point through the process.”

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

“I don’t think there’s one person that sits on this council, or I’ve seen in 10 years, that doesn’t want to approve the city council and allow the city to function as a whole, and there’s lots of elements to that,” Adams said.

During the public hearing regarding the budget, community members addressed the council regarding the project.

Easton Weaver told the council he felt the addition to the Aquatic Center would have a positive impact on the community and allow more children to enjoy recreational activities.

“I really think it’d be great if we could have these courts, this facility available, to improve and be able to have fun with teammates and friends and coaches and get out and be active,” Weaver said. “If we could have it would allow everybody the opportunity.”

Dan Kidder said the council should allow the community to vote on the project, as its the largest item on the budget, and encouraged the council to remove it from the budget.

“This council has the authority to remove a line item,” Kidder said. “You wouldn’t be voting against the entire budget, you would be removing that one item until we have an opportunity to get all the facts in, to get all of the feedback from the people and to see what the economy is going to do. I would encourage you to do so and ask you to put it on the ballot.”

Cedar City Council member Scott Phillips (in tan suit coat) speaks during the council’s regular meeting, Cedar City, Utah, June 12, 2019 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

Tom Jett expressed concerns related to owning property, and the possibility of property taxes increasing as a result of funding the project through a general obligation.

“The only fair way to tax this thing is through a sales tax bond,” Jett said. “I’m tired of the taxes being placed solely on the residents of Cedar City when the benefits go to many other people in our community.”

City Attorney Tyler Romeril clarified that putting the project on a ballot does not require the city to use a general obligation bond to fund it.

Other community members expressed questions related to the availability and clarity of information about the project, the importance of letting city residents vote on the project and competing with private businesses; another resident also expressed support for the project.

The small business grant program that would issue $1,000 to 25 businesses in Cedar City to aid with costs associated with re-opening was approved unanimously by the council Wednesday.

The program involves the city donating $25,000 to the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce, and the Cedar City Chamber of Commerce facilitating the application process and making recommendations based on requirements and guidelines from Cedar City.

Melling said there may be other opportunities to support local businesses in the future, and he would still like to move forward with this program.

“I, personally, would still like to move forward with this effort in helping out those businesses that have imminent needs,” Melling said. “This program would basically be funded with some basic criteria from the city. The funding would go to the Salt Lake Chamber Foundation and be administered according to the city’s criteria by the local chamber of commerce.”

Isom expressed support for the program.

I really believe $1,000 can make a big difference in a small company, so I think this is a great gesture,” Isom said.

Phillips said the program is directed toward small businesses in the hopes that $1,000 will have a positive impact.

“I believe our intent here is really trying to help the smaller mom and pop (businesses), because we realize $1,000 is not a lot of money but it might the thing that helps a very small business with some element affected by COVID-19,” Phillips said.

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

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