Mike McDonald, St. Joseph
St. Joseph does not need another community room. The community room at the fire hall has an 80-percent vacancy rate. The community room at the Wobegon building is vacant at least 95 percent of available time. A church in St. Joseph recently completed another community room.
St. Joseph citizens do not want another community room. The sales-tax vote was for a Community Center. Two open forums were held to discuss the proposed building. Citizens at the “listening session” in March 2013 and the recent session at the fire hall overwhelmingly voiced opinions that a mere community room was not wanted. Are city leaders surprised citizens object to spending a million sales-tax dollars on something that has no recreational/social/educational/exercise programming to it?
If leaders are referring to a survey done in 2008 for their theory citizens want a community room, they are missing the context of the survey. That survey was related to investigating the use of sales-tax funds to purchase the former Kennedy School for use as a Community Center. In that context, local fraternal and charitable organizations thought they might be able to claim one of the numerous small classrooms for their own. If council members study that survey, they would see the vast majority of the 500-plus responders thought a community center should not be part of an administration/police building. I know of no other surveys that ask for a community room, yet council members use that as a pretext to spend millions on a government center.
The city claims the current building is in “shoddy” condition. The architect hired by the city for the project stated the present building was “sound.” Why do council members view it differently? Yes, the current building needs the same maintenance and repair as any building its age. Perhaps if leaders used the $200,000 maintenance/repair funds bonded for in 2011 for its intended purpose, the building would be in better shape. A new government center was never in the city’s five-year capital-improvement plan until late in 2013, and the line item never went through the normal budget process to be included.
Council members are not telling the whole story with the example showing the first six-year period will cost an owner of a $150,000 home only $76 ($12 per year). They are not telling citizens that property taxes related to the present building should be going down after 2015 because the current bond will be fully paid. Instead, council members plan to continue to collect taxes for the new building. They are using the first six-year period as an example because property taxes won’t be levied the first three years. According to bond documents, the 2014 payment would be made with unspent money from the 2011 roof/HVAC repairs bond. The 2015 and 2016 payments would be paid from sales-tax funds. Our property tax levy would not go up until 2017 (first three-year funds are already out of our pockets). Presenting financial information in this manner is knowingly deceptive and brings up questions of trust between citizens and city leaders.
Each council person should be able to calculate the true cost of the proposed bond and the impact. The cost (including interest) of the proposed bond is $6,234,000. The city plans to use tax levies for $5,560,000. Compiling the real cost of this bond is simple. Per the bond presentation (dated 2-19-14), the average amount the city must levy over the 20-year period is $278,000 per year. For each increase of $32,200 of expenditures, our city levy increases 1 percent. If you divide $278,000 by $32,200 you see that, on average, our levy will increase 8.63 percent annually related to this bond. Apply that to your home’s mill rate (each increment of $100,000 value of your home) and the real impact on a $150,000 home is far different than the $12 the city is trying to portray (multiply the 8.63-percent increase by 15 to arrive at a true average increase of $129.50).
If council members believe citizens want to spend money on a new government center, they should have no problem putting the question on the November ballot. The council has spent funds to obtain information related to an approximately $500,000 project to move power poles one-half a block in order for that question be placed on the November ballot. If they believe that question belongs on the ballot, they should not force citizens to obtain signatures to put the far more expensive project there as well.