Readers’ Views

Questions abound

To the Editor:

I would like to provide a taxpayer’s point of view on the proposed community center in Fairmont and provide a few suggestions to the community center committee.

In November 2016, Fairmont residents passed a local option sales tax, dedicated to fund “recreational amenities, trails and/or a Fairmont Community Center.” I believe most of the citizens are in favor of developing recreational alternatives for the city.

It is not clear if there is a Project Execution Plan (PEP) developed, outlining purpose, scope and objectives utilizing the new tax dollars and/or committing other tax dollars/funds to a community center. The community center seems to be a preconceived need/notion by certain business, minority public input and newspaper articles.

I cannot support an expensive endeavor without an appropriate execution plan and a cost-benefit financial plan. Please address these concerns.

The following points may help in addressing these gaps and emphasizing a PEP:

1) Is the city of Fairmont meeting voter expectations by reviewing alternatives to spend the local option sales tax funds, i.e. other than a community center?

2) The concept to have a community center where elderly and our young people have a place to gather and engage in “recreation” seems feasible. However, the city of Fairmont has no business competing with private enterprise nor nonprofit organizations, i.e. fitness centers and banquet halls. Dedicated tax dollars toward public use amenities should not directly compete with local establishments/facilities/business already in place. Explain how the city will assure there will be no competition on tax generating resources?

Market Analysis & Feasibility Study question:

1) A firm was hired for a “Market Analysis & Feasibility Study” that describes Fairmont area demographics on housing, income, activities, etc. This is a good start by the city, but in my review of the study it does not support a community center. The activities outlined in the study are all found in or around Fairmont already. If indeed focus for the study was to support a community center, the study did not go into feasibility with detail utilizing existing facilities, such as the school gyms, existing banquet halls, i.e. Knights of Columbus and Eagles Club, vacant or under-utilized buildings such as Kmart, county fairgrounds, National Guard Armory and Community Center. “Community Center,” by the way, is on the front of the armory. Noted, some private facilities, e.g. the fitness centers are mentioned. However, it is debatable on the study’s findings. Can the city conduct a wider review utilizing existing resources and share a detailed PEP incorporating the above-mentioned study with purpose, scope and objectives on the local option sales tax and other tax revenue?

Tax dollar stewardship questions:

1) The city of Fairmont is proposing a huge financial commitment on a multi-phased community center project, with Phase 1 estimated at $24.7 million and operating expenses of $530,000 per year. Where are the funds for this project coming from?

2. The community center committee plans to raise $10 million in private donations. Is this feasible?

3. The sales tax is generating $600,000 per year or $15 million over 25 years. This amount of tax revenue does not come close to paying for community center expenditures, very likely just covering operating expenses per year. Where are other finds coming from?

4. Transparency and accountability are a concern with citizens not being allowed to vote on whether a community center will be built. This looks a bit like taxation without representation. The City Council requiring a majority of 3 of the 5 council members, albeit elected officials. Is this appropriate?

5. Our supporting area includes Martin County. Have county commissioners and residents been approached on financial support and risks? Has the county assisted the city on other projects?

6. What does past performance on other city projects/endeavors look like, such as the Aquatic Park? Are they self-sustaining or require supplements?

7. How does this project fit in with other future tax dollar demands, such as a new jail, low-income housing, etc.?

I support Fairmont’s growth and success. I appreciate the resources it takes to manage a city and I do desire an appropriate future for the community, with transparency on tax revenue spending and executing well thought-out plans.

Hugh Fraser