Community Center

Kris Durbin's Position on the Proposed Shawnee Community Center

My Statement Regarding the Outcome of the Shawnee Mail Election for the Proposed Community Center:

I am pleased with the outcome. It is a shame that the city had to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the honest opinion of the electoral, but it is certainly better than squandering away $54M on a facility that would have indebted our city in perpetuity.

I believe that many on our council are out of touch with reality; their decision to pursue this venture, and the outcome we see today, show the dire misalignment they have with our city's priorities.

The most important outcome today is that there is a new awakening within the city. This initiative has reaped a new level of involvement and engagement with our local government that we have never seen before in Shawnee. A powerful grassroots movement has been unleashed that will continue to grow and hold our governing body and city management accountable. The outcome of this election was not simply about a Community Center. The outcome is that an overwhelming number of citizens believe in their right to exercise an informed vote.

There is a Better Way

The proposed Shawnee Community Center is up for election in May. In February, 2019, the Shawnee City Council voted to take the conceptually planned Community Center to a public vote. They also voted to fund $500,000 in initial operations expenses without having passed a successful ballot. I would support a responsibly planned, budgeted, and operated facility that offers some of the components that the currently planned center has, however, I do not support this community center. Here's why:

  • It's funded entirely by debt
    • Some feature has been in discussion for the western Shawnee communites for over 30 years, yet the city has not saved or funded through any means, any of the $38,000,000 it will cost to design and build the proposed center. Instead, the city wants the citizens of Shawnee to finance the project for them -- at a total cost of $54,000,000.
    • If passed, there will never be an opportunity to restructure the funding, scale back the scope, or better align the operational needs with the community. The ballot measure is final -- those, like me, that believe that there is a better way will have their hands tied to pursue more responsible options.
  • It will never operate in the black
    • The city has openly stated that "city services are not meant to be profitable." While this is the case for critical services and infrastructure, such as police, fire, and public works, I firmly refuse to believe that a recreational facility should be operated by a municipality that does not, at least, break even. The city of Shawnee acknowledges and accepts that their proposed community center will lose over $1.5 million in the first five years alone.
    • The city's figures do not make sense. The city has released a table demonstrating the operating costs and revenues over the first five years of operations. While the revenues are shown to escalate significantly year over year, the expense escalations decline year over year. This is unrealistic for two reasons -- first, expenses will always escalate with revenues in a service driven environment. If you serve more customers, then your cost to serve them will increase as well. Secondly, with high risk equipment and facilities such as a gym and swimming pools, maintenance costs will be significant as early as year one. The expense costs can never be as steady as the city proposes due to the nature of the business they are in.
    • The deficit must be funded from other sources. This will be the general fund. In order to fill this gap, other city services will see their funding reduced as a result of this facility that will never break even.
  • It competes with private companies in our city
    • As proposed, the community center will offer services and equipment that are available at local businesses in our community. These businesses, in many cases, are owned by and operated by Shawnee citizens who make their livlihood by offering these services in our community. If the city enters the market as a competitor, this will destroy these businesses and families, which would also eliminate their revenue sources and income as a part of our tax base.
    • The city takes a position that the community center is "not designed to compete" with these companies, because they offer more family-centric services. The fact is that the community center will offer gym facilities, yoga and other instructional classes, and space to run and play sports. If the city offers these services, they are competing; and in doing so, they will be able to offer the same services at a lower cost due to their structure to operate at a loss, and in effect, undercutting other businesses.
  • It will be cost prohibitive for most families to use
    • In addition to the property tax increase that will fund the design and construction of the facility, prices to use the facility are above and beyond this initial burden. At an annual rate of $840 ($912 if paid monthly), the average family will not be able to use the facility. Similar daily rates are also cost prohibitive -- $40 per day for a family of 5.
  • It will be inaccessible to half of our city
    • Because of its western location, those who live in the more densely populated, eastern half of the city, will be unlikely to consistently use the center. The new Merriam community center will be a closer option for many of these residents. This will dampen the use-figures proposed by the city. The initial design plan for this western feature was a third outdoor pool, which would cost significantly less, and would offer similar services that the other two pools offer. This option was explored, but never pursued, instead resulting in the proposed center that is up for vote.
  • Other infrastructure needs must come first
    • Our city has some critical needs that are currently underfunded. One of the most critical needs is our ageing stormwater infrastucture. Our city has over 100 miles of 30+ year old corrugated metal stormwater drain pipes, of which much is failing or will imminently fail. In the past five years alone, five of our major city roads have suffered sinkhole failures due to these pipes collapsing. The public works department estimates that in the next ten years, our city will need to incur up to $140,000,000 in unfuded repair costs for stormwater systems alone. We will certainly be faced with a tax rate increase in the short term to fund these needs. The city wants to pass the community center now before invoking a mandatory rate increase for these infrastructure needs. This tax increase won't be optional.

Click here to read more about the Vote No - There's a Better Way Committee.

Paid for by KRIS DURBIN FOR CITY COUNCIL, Tim Durbin, Treasurer

© 2020 Copyright, Kris Durbin for City Council