Letter to Editor:
On December 15, 2016, Alice Echo News reported: After much discussion and evaluating financial data for the Multi-Use Complex, the city council voted unanimous Wednesday to shut down the natatorium/water park after opening in June. Newest appointed councilman Pete Crisp made the motion to close it down, and it prevailed in a 4-0 vote. The Alice Echo went on to report several inaccuracies. The following will clarify.
On December 15, 2016 Alice Echo News reported: “The Aquatic Center had a soft opening in June. Despite the sponsorships and corporate/individual memberships that were sold, the center continued to lose money in upwards of $50,000 a month in the 6-months it has been opened.”
The financial reports prepared by the City of Alice, for fiscal year 2016 (October 01, 2015 to September 30, 2016), show that the natatorium had a cost in the amount of $121,839. Which means a monthly loss of $10,153.25. While in operation from June 01, 2016 until September 30, 2016, the facility generated revenue in the amount of $279,853 (operating revenue plus corporate advertisement.) The expenses for those opened months were $238,013. The facility didn’t have a loss. It had a PROFIT of $41,840. Furthermore, the water park was only opened for a partial summer season. Had it run a full season the revenue would have been higher. Additionally, had it not been saddled with an unnecessary, expensive cleaning contract, the profit would have been much higher.
Our community needs to understand the following facts:
• Now that the facility has been closed, property taxes will not be adjusted. Our property taxes were increased because we are disproportionately dependent on SALES TAX which was primarily generated from the oilfield industry, NOT because of one public works project. Now that this industry is experiencing a massive downturn, our city raised property taxes to make up the shortfall.
• When the facility is CLOSED to the public, with NO revenue being earned, it still has a monthly cost, estimated at $21,030; which leads to an annual loss (and cost) estimated at about $252,360.
• The loss is LESS when the facility is open and bringing in revenue.
So, did the council really evaluate the financial data and make an informed decision?
On December 18, 2016, Alice Echo News reported: “Some memberships, sponsorships and school district who pledged to help, before the facility opened, didn't come through with the funding, officials said.”
Which officials said this? Per financial reports prepared by the City of Alice, out of 30 advertising accounts only 2 didn’t come through: Del Cielo and The Copy Center.
All businesses were given different payment terms based on their contracts. With the facility closing, this contracted revenue, both for memberships and advertisers, was effectively REJECTED by the council. Furthermore, the city has breached these contracts with local businesses and citizens. Is this how we do business in Alice? No wonder we have a hard time attracting new business to our community if this is how we treat our own.
Please refer to the following table as of November 30, 2016:
Total Contracted Advertisement: $137,030
Total Collected Advertisement: $95,337
Outstanding Balances: $41,693
On December 15, 2016 Alice Echo News quoted Ron Burke as stating, "It has been a major distraction that has diverted valuable time and resources away from critical priorities."
The Multi-Use Complex was completed and operational in August 2015 and sat CLOSED until June 2016. How could this facility possibly have been such a “major distraction” while sitting closed? Mr. Burke has had no part in this facility, yet he claims it has taken his valuable time. How? It appears that Mr. Burke is only NOW able to focus on “water, infrastructure and streets” (right before election time). What has he been doing for the last two years?
On December 15, 2016 Alice Echo News reported, "It is unfortunate for our community that this facility became such a financial albatross from its very start. The idea was not conceived on fact and the project was a management fiasco even prior to groundbreaking," Councilman Ron Burke said. "Its costly impact has had both short and long term financial consequences and realities that had to be faced for the best financial interests of the entire city."
• When this project was presented for development, there were multiple options for funding from federal and state grant funds such as Native American Heritage, EDA (Federal Economic Development Association) and the IRS New Market Tax Credit. The administration at the time this project was started sought out funding. Why are these options, which are still available, not being actively pursued by our City Leaders?
• As citizens, we need to understand that one facility is not the reason our city and county are under financial strain. The voters of Alice must understand that it is customary for cities to operate public works projects at a “cost,” or “loss” to the annual budget. The City of Alice, like every other community in Texas, operates quality of life facilities like the municipal golf course, library, parks and airport at a cost in the tens of thousands of dollars annually. It is critical to consider these operations as a cost, not a loss. The Natatorium and Waterpark has the potential to generate significant revenue from within and outside our community. These are dollars that would not otherwise be spent in our city. This is a first step to diversification, while also providing our community with a better quality of life.
• In the past decade, our city and county leaders have made decisions affecting taxes and spending that could not withstand the shock suffered by the decline in the energy industry.
To blame the burden of 10 years of reckless decisions on the Natatorium is irresponsible, and a misguided effort to divert attention from countless failed policies.
A prudent council should assess which public works projects have the potential to serve the most people while bringing in revenue, improving the quality of our community and providing wellness and health for all its citizens.
Why is there investment and commitment by our city and county leaders for all other public works projects, like the airport and the golf course, but not for this one?
Finally, if financial concerns are truly the motivation behind the decision of the council to close the pool, why have we not seen across the board cuts in ALL public works facilities? Why the targeted closing of only one?
The 2016 Multi-Use Complex Advisory Committee,
Denise Koenning Blanchard
(Editor's Note: All of our figures were taken from city officials and quotes were attributed)