CEDAR CITY — The ongoing debate about whether Cedar City should expand the city’s aquatic center by constructing new basketball courts and other amenities took a sharp turn Wednesday night during a work session for the City Council.
At issue was a proposed resolution that would repeal a resolution passed by council in a split vote last November to expand the city rec center, as previously reported on by Cedar City News.
During the Wednesday meeting, Paul Bittmenn, the city manager, discussed a recent finding in relation to the passed resolution, which previously implicated that the authorized staff and the mayor could incur up to $7 million of debt for the purpose of constructing the expansion of the rec center.
“We went with numbers at that point that were estimates from our architect who is designing the building,” Bittmenn said. “A couple weeks ago he emailed and said, ‘You can count on paying at least 150% of our original estimate.’”
The original estimate for the project was $6.2 million, so 150% of that would increase the cost to $9.3 million. After this realization, Bittmenn said, they drafted the new resolution, which, in addition to repealing the November resolution, would also repeal the bonding authority the council gave the staff.
In other words, this new resolution would halt the project.
“The concept is we would not proceed at the current time with the rec center,” Bittmenn said. “We would finish out the contract with the architect, but we would not proceed with the construction phase.”
City Attorney Tyler Romeril said that if the council chooses to repeal the resolution, that it would also end the referendum launched by a group of Cedar City residents, which would have allowed the public to vote on the matter, because the purpose of the referendum was to undo the resolution that was passed. He said this was confirmed by the state of Utah elections department.
“So that would essentially end this going forward,” Romeril said.
Several of the citizens in the original group that gathered petition signatures and launched the referendum were also present at the meeting. One of them, Ron Riddle, said he wanted to ask a question and have that question put on the ballet so it goes to voters.
“Should Cedar City borrow money to construct a new public rec center that would be at the estimated cost of $9.3 million dollars?” he said. “I’d still like to see it put on the ballot.”
Council member Terri Hartley responded by saying there has been discussion about putting a question on the ballot, but it won’t mention a cost of $9.3 million.
“All of us agree that that’s too much money,” Hartley said. “Nobody wants to do that.”
Discussion ensued, sometimes heated. Citizens who spoke all agreed that even if the original resolution is repealed, they still want a non-binding question put on the ballot that lets the people of Cedar City say clearly: Do they want a rec center or not?
Dan Kidder, a sponsor of the referendum, spoke in support of Riddle.
“I would like to encourage you to continue forward in placing a non-binding question on the ballot,” Kidder said. “Gathering signatures, there was the comment that the council will repeal this and just do what they want anyway.”
Kidder spoke of general and specific mistrust of the council.
“I think you have a perception problem,” Kidder said. “The voters who signed that petition are going to feel a bit disenfranchised if they don’t get the opportunity to weigh in.”
Being a work session, the council could not vote on anything and the repeal of the rec center resolution will be on the active agenda during the meeting on May 12.
Whether a rec center question will be put on the November ballot is an issue yet to be determined.
Mayor Maile Wilson-Edwards said they commit to further working with the citizens.
“We will commit to continue working with Dan (Kidder) and group on the request from Mr. Riddle,” she said. “And we can bring something back before the council in the future.”
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