Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Editorial — Dome group plays campaign the right way

An effort to build an indoor, domed sports facility on the central Kenai Peninsula is what good government is all about.

Citizens want something. They think it will benefit the entire community, but they recognize there isn’t enough “free” money available on the magic financial tree of state and federal funds, grants and corporate donations to pay for it. So they volunteer to shoulder an extra tax burden to make it happen, and ask their neighbors to do the same.

In these days of bank bailouts, stock market collapses, housing market bubble bursts and retirement fund evaporations, coming on the heels of an era of pork barrel spending where following the money was more challenging than following an instruction book in Chinese, it’s refreshing to see an example of government straight out of civics 101.

People want something, they’re willing to pay for it so they ask their government to help provide it.

The group pursuing the sports dome, led by former borough mayor Mike Navarre, Kathy Gensel and Dale Sandahl, and supported by a who’s who cast of community leaders, is going about this in the best way possible. They want to establish a service area that would increase property taxes by a half mill to pay for the dome.

They’re forming a realistic estimate of the costs and scope of the project and are open about it with the community. They’re not telling people, “We’ll get grants, and the Legislature will come through and surely BP will be good for a million or so,” and adding (in fine print), “We’ll stick taxpayers with the rest of the bill.”

They’re not even attempting to convince people that the dome will pay for itself in user fees. It’s a good thing, because after the Soldotna Sports Center and Kenai Multipurpose Facility, citizens know recreation facilities tend to become black holes for public money. Instead, they’re telling people the truth: We’ll be paying a certain amount every year to operate this facility, and that’s OK. It’s not meant to make money, it’s a quality-of-life enhancement we’re willing to support.”

They do hope to get grants, legislative and donor funding, but they’re not even factoring that into the cost structure they’re presenting to the public. They’re telling people, “If we get this money, great, but if not, this is what it will cost to have this facility. We think it’s worth the cost, for the good of our kids and the entire community. We hope you think so, too.”

Whether people agree or not that the dome is worth an extra $50 a year on $100,000 of assessed property value, they can’t fault the process or allege that government’s trying to sneak something by them.

The dome group is holding a series of organizational meetings, where everyone is invited to come get information and ask questions. They’re talking to potential user groups and gaining their support. And they’re planning on bringing the matter before the borough assembly in May to get the service area question on the October ballot. Then, as Navarre said:

“The public gets to decide this. That’s how this works.”

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