Rec center vote delayed, but tax hike now on table
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 20, 2010 1:46 PM
Goldsboro City Council might have tabled talk of a rec center until it gets more information, but city officials say there might still be a need for higher taxes -- even without the project.
With too many questions still unanswered, the Goldsboro City Council ended its discussion about construction of a new recreation center downtown during its pre-meeting work session, agreeing to resume the conversation Friday at noon.
But just before the board moved on, a question raised by council members Jackie Warrick and Bob Waller about what it might take to fund the facility -- the $9 million-plus construction costs and roughly $1 million annual operating costs -- prompted City Manager Joe Huffman to reveal that the budget he says will be ready for council members to look at by early next week would likely include a recommendation for a tax increase -- whether the board votes to move forward with the recreation center project or not.
"It's not solid yet. I've got to figure out what we're doing, but right now, my guess is we're probably going to recommend a tax increase," Huffman said later Monday evening. "It's (because of) a lot of things. One, I think we've been doing a lot, but I think the other thing is a lot of the state revenue is down -- sales tax and some of those -- and we actually have less money to operate on."
Last year, he added, there was roughly $1 million less to work with in the budget than in the previous fiscal year.
"And this year, it looks like we're going to get hit again pretty hard," he said.
No additional details -- the size of the potential increase, what expenditures have already been cut out of the budget -- were available Monday, as Huffman said there is still work left to do before those decisions are made.
But there was a consensus regarding the recreation center, if construction is ultimately approved.
Council members agreed, for the most part, on which alternates -- estimated to increase the $8.76 million base bid by as much as $500,000 -- to include in the final plan.
The only area of contention is the climbing wall, an amenity Councilman Jackie Warrick said he opposes.
"The young people need it," Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen said.
"That's $48,000," Warrick replied.
Other questions also made a Monday vote impossible.
Council member Don Chatman said he wants to see a year by year breakdown of the costs associated with debt service and operating costs for the facility.
And Bob Waller wants to know who would be charged with running the building.
"Have we decided who's going to run it?" he asked. "Are we going to run it? Is the Y(MCA) going to run it or what?"
Even new Parks and Recreation Director Ruben Wall had questions that remain unanswered -- whether or not the facility would be free and open to the public, if a membership would be required.
"That's something we've really got to work out," he said. "But however I'm instructed to do it, I'll make it happen."
The city has been eyeing construction of a new recreation center since the previous facility -- opened in 1925 and located on Walnut Street -- was destroyed by fire in 2004.
In June 2005, a committee was formed to research a possible reconstruction, and since, the group has produced a design, location -- the 200 block of Center Street -- and most of the additional details to make it happen.
But the project was put on hold in January 2009 because of a shaky economy -- the same climate officials now say has saved as much as $5 million on construction.
As the plans currently show it, the recreation center would be a YMCA-like facility, complete with a pool, concession area, day care room, restrooms, classrooms, gymnasium and indoor track. A fitness center, weight room and gaming room also are included in the plan.
The majority of the council has remained satisfied with the renderings produced by architectural firm Pearce, Brinkley, Cease and Lee, P.A. -- only Michael Headen has voiced opposition to the look, saying in December 2009 he did not believe the building "fit" into his vision of downtown.
The Rev. Charles Williams also has voiced concerns, questioning how the center would be run -- and whether the building would truly serve the entire population if the city moved forward with a membership-based access system.
But those concerns are not the only ones that exist.
In fact, some members of the community are simply not satisfied with the plans.
A petition signed by nearly 100 local residents was received by the city management team in early February, a document that claims the proposed facility "is not environmentally compatible with existing buildings" downtown.
"We understand that building the center would be less expensive now, but much are opposed to being forced to accept a building design which will have a negative, rather than positive, impact on the overall downtown plan," the petition reads. "If a client is not pleased with the facade, they should not be coerced into paying additional money to receive an acceptable design."
No decision was made Monday on whether or not a new facility will grace downtown in the near future, as the council will come together again Friday to resume that discussion.
But Huffman said at least one thing is likely: The need to find additional revenue, perhaps in the form of increased taxes.