Readers’ Views

Where are our priorities?

To the Editor:

I am one of the senior citizens in this community who took time Wednesday to attend the proposed community center meeting at the Opera House.

It was a one-sided presentation on the greatness of this building project. Despite a number of speakers stating opposing views, the committee in charge did not address citizen concerns directly. Every time a dissenting viewpoint was presented, the speaker(s) who responded did their best to side-step the question.

A number of questions went unanswered: (1) What is going to be the cost to a family to “join” or participate? (2) What is the plan for preserving the existing businesses that will be impacted by this taxpayer funded project? Specifically, the Knights of Columbus facility as presented by Andy Lucas. We cannot and should not turn a deaf ear to their concerns. (3) What is the tax burden going to be on a household in the city? (4) What about ongoing maintenance costs and staffing costs?

Keep in mind too: when a building project is proposed, we are hearing a best-case scenario. There are always costs overruns before completion.

Today we have an outdoor pool that loses money and gets bail-out support from the liquor store. If the city builds this complex, it would be only fair to allow other stores (Walmart, Hy-Vee, Casey’s, etc.) to stock and sell liquor. Level the playing field so the city can feel the impact of hurting business.

When I moved to Fairmont in 1974, one of the main attractions was the swimming pool, but due to a number of factors they closed it rather than make the necessary fixes. One of the first men I talked to after moving to Fairmont was Albert Niss. When I asked him how it was that Fairmont built such a nice big pool, his answer was an emphatic “our lakes are not fit to bathe in.” Now we are going to redouble our efforts and build a new one (or two), in addition to the outdoor one? Give me a break. It seems every time Fairmont builds, we go overboard, BIG, as if our community is growing. We need a tent but end up building a castle.

Back in May 2015, the 1590 group made a list of enhancements needed in the community. The community center was NOT a top priority. Again, in January 2016, planning was progressing on the multi-purpose trails, reusing vacant buildings, beautifying our waterways, etc. The Wellness Center (as it was called at that time) again, was not a top priority. By October 2016, a poll was taken and this project was moved into a $40 million venture outlined in a 90-page report by the architects and consulting team.

When the city passed the half-cent sales tax increase in June 2017, it was earmarked for recreational amenities such as “parks and trails and a possible community center.” Four months later, in October, “City OKs community center study” was the headline of an article. It spent $125,000 for a business plan. No mention of this in a subsequent article on Nov. 14, 2017, when it is stated that the “City OKs update for trail plans.”

It seems to me that this has been a behind-the-scenes effort to build regardless of citizen concerns. I would like to see this brought up for a vote before proceeding any further. I fail to see the legality of burdening the taxpayers with this debt. It’s like spending a nickel because we have a dollar showing up in 15 years — a lack of fiscal responsibility. Voters beware: some council members deserve to be replaced if this is the way they govern.

The Census Bureau statistics show we are losing population. Young people do not stay in Fairmont mainly because there is no new industry here to give them jobs. Time and again we are considered by companies but get outmaneuvered by other, more progressive, communities, just 30 miles away, in Jackson and Blue Earth.

City Council: You need to step back and examine what we are doing wrong. Going way back look at the loss of the junior college, the loss of John Deere facilities, the loss of Winnebago Industries expansion, the loss of Stokleys, Wick Homes, Teledyne Aerospace, the list goes on and on.

We have a lot more pressing matters to attend to rather than a fitness center as proposed. Our roads are a disgrace coming into town from the west. An enterprising company would question their decision to locate here. Finally, our building codes are such that building here is a big financial burden. Again, the city has chosen to make expansion and new business development as tough as possible. I do not see the council as a pro-business and growth-driven entity.

Verlus Burkhart