The city should take the plunge

Monday, October 3, 2005

At the conclusion of a year of hard decisions, the Cherokee City Council faces yet another agonizing one.

The state has awarded the city a grant for up to $400,000 for the Aquatic Center/Gillette Park project. The term "up to" means that the state has pledged 11.11 percent of the estimated cost of $3.6 million. This can be no more than $400,000 and no more than 11.11 percent.

The city does not have $400,000. The only way to raise that kind of money would be to bond for it.

If the council chooses to bond for $400,000, there will be howls of protests that the council is being fiscally irresponsible.

If the council doesn't choose to match the state grant, there will be howls of protests that the city is jeopardizing a project that will enhance the quality of life in Cherokee and attract people from many miles around.

The city must come up with $400,000 in addition to the $100,000 already pledged by the city or the state will not give the $400,000. Funding from another source besides the city wouldn't count. Money reduced from the total project cost would not affect the amount required from the city.

The city recently retired some of its bonds after becoming dangerously close to being at the maximum amount of bond debt allowed by law. The city currently has $1.3 million in bonding capacity. That's not a lot but a more comfortable margin than in the recent past.

Like most cities, Cherokee levies the maximum amount allowed by law for operation. The city can levy an additional amount to apply toward debt service for a bond to pay off a capital project but cannot use such revenue for operating funds.

The city has had to make staff reductions as a result of insufficient operating revenue. It faces more cost cutting needs next year. Whether or not the city levies for debt service to pay for a bond debt, the amount of operating funds doesn't change.

Despite how much explaining is done about how operations and bond debt have separate revenue sources, there will be people who will not understand how contributing to a pool project has nothing to do with the city's lack of operating funds.

Council members who vote to make a contribution to the pool will be subject to acrimonious and untrue accusations of sacrificing jobs for the sake of a swimming pool.

We believe the council should vote for a $400,000 donation to the project anyway.

Without the $800,000 in grant funds and matching city funds, the project as planned will not be viable. Even with this money, the fund raising committee still has a challenging job ahead in getting about $1 million more in pledges to reach the objective of $3.6 million.

One last fact. The swimming pool is near the end of its useful life. Replacing it with something similar would cost the city beyond the $500,000 ($400,000 plus the $100,000 already pledged) being asked as a contribution toward a truly impressive project.

Businesses, individuals and even the county government have shown generous support for the project. If the city does not meet this challenge, it will be giving a slap in the face to all those with the courage and dedication to work for a better Cherokee.