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Emmetsburg Council Revisits Community Center Project

By Staff | Mar 15, 2012

The proposed community center came before Emmetsburg City Council Monday night at the request of newly-elected councilman Bill Burdick, Jr.

“I’ve heard there is a petition circulating against a community center as proposed,” said Burdick. “I know that everybody wants a community center out there in the end. The numbers that I have received off our budget are not the numbers I’m hearing in the past.”

Burdick noted that the golf clubhouse, through proposed for 2013, operated at a deficit of $158,000. Looking at the golf course expense and revenue, he said there would be a loss of $121,000.

“I’m not sure if everyone knows this,” said Burdick.

“The numbers for the past three fiscal years (fiscal ’09 was the first year, so it was a partial year), the actuals are, between the two of them, $189,291 through three years,” said City Administrator John Bird. “That’s the two of them together showing a loss.”

“Those are the actual numbers. Those aren’t the budgeted numbers,” added Burdick. “I included the budgeted numbers.”

Bird asked if Burdick had seen the petition.

“No. I’ve had several people say they don’t want a $2.1, $2.2 million community center,” Burdick answered, then added, “There’s no doubt, they want a community center. That’s not even up for discussion.”

“We kind of went through this with past councils and we couldn’t get together so we turned it over to ECDC for them to do the surveys,” said councilman Steve Finer. “They hired Hanser and then they put a group together who spent a lot of time going around to different communities. Right now we’re in the process of getting several grants.

“I just don’t think it would be good to start changing our plan of thought right now,” Finer added. “If it doesn’t ‘flow, if we don’t get the funds to build it, then I’d say we go to plan B. We don’t really have a plan B, but”

One of the questions circulating in the community is: Why isn’t there going to be a referendum on construction of the community center? Bird noted that because the city is not proposing to use any tax dollars on the project there does not need to be a referendum. If tax dollars would be used, there would be a referendum because a community center is not considered an essential corporate purpose. It would be a general corporate purpose, like building a library or city hall or a swimming pool, Bird explained.

“Bill asked what would it take to cause a referendum to be held, and there’s really no statutory basis for that. Again, we’re not proposing using any tax dollars,” said Bird. “Can the council call for a referendum? The council can put it on a ballot, but the ting is, and we talked about this too, I don’t know that a one question referendum gets to the core.”

An alternative to a one-question referendum would be a multi-question survey. A survey has been conducted by Hanser & Associates, involving 380 people the school district.

Addressing city subsidizing operating costs, Bird stressed that in the long term he hoped the community center would carry its own weight and not have to be subsidized with city funding.

“Have we accepted the plan as it’s setthe $2.1 million?” questioned Burdick. “We’ve already spent $300,000 on this building, the one that’s there. For a city, that’s quite a bit for the five years we’ve owned it I included the next two budgets, through 2013. I believe that’s a lot to eat for a city the size of Emmetsburg. We shouldn’t probably be in the golf course business.”

“That was buying the property,” said Finer.

“So we’re over $500,000 right now and haven’t made a penny off the place yet” stated Burdick. “I get questions every day is that place making money? It’s not making money.”

“Neither is the pool, neither is the library, neither is the police department, neither are the parks,” said Burdick. “You have to decide, as policy makers, does it have enough value that you will subsidize it.”

“Another thing I think we need to consider is, if you just look at the numbers it may not look as a positive thing,” said councilman Brian Campbell. “We need to look at the impact on other entire community and the entire area that a facility like this is going to have as far as bringing people, the money they’re going to spend at gas stations, restaurants and motels. Other businesses within the community also that won’t ever show up in these numbers.”

Burdick stated that the proposed plan does not address the lake enough.

“We’ve been dredging the lake for how many years now? It’s our biggest asset we have in Emmetsburg and I don’t think it really complements that very well It doesn’t have a restaurant as proposed right now. If you want to be on the lake, I think you should have a restaurant.”

Addressing quality of life and economic development potentials, Burdick was asked what value he placed on those two perspectives.

“I think you’ll hear form people here in town that I’m not sure if that place actually values that much,” said Burdick.

Discussion continued about public opinion on the project. “I will say in the ECDC’s defense, and in the council’s defense, we’ve held four or five public meetings since we started on this project and they’ve been widely publicized,” said Bird.”

Addressing usage of the building, Bird stated, “Times have changed. We need to be creative with whatever is built out there If we don’t market it, we may as well hang it up right now.”

“The people that talk to me had not attended a public hearing because they said they know nothing about any of this going on,” said Mayor Myrna Heddinger. “They were never allowed to vote on the pool, nor the library, and now they couldn’t vote on this. If they had attended those meetings they would have known what was happening.”

When asked to pinpoint the cost of the proposed community center, Community Developer Steve Heldt answered, “The building will be around $150.00 per square foot, which will be around $1.5 million. Everything adds to the building, which is like $200,000 for the parking lot, and then add tables and chairs and other furnishings. So we’re saying between $1.5 and $2 million will cover the cost.

“I just wanted to make sure everybody knew the actual numbers,” said Burdick.

Bird noted that the cost to tear down the current building is also included in the $1.5 to $2 million price tag. The current clubhouse is scheduled for demolition after Labor Day this year.

A motion to approve construction of a community center was made by councilman Burdick, with a second by Malm. All councilmen voted in yes.

Councilman Campbell introduced a motion for renewed support for the proposed community center design, with a second by Malm. Voting in favor were Campbell, Malm, Kauten, Finer. Voting no, Burdick.