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Letters to the Community Publications Editor
Des Moines Register
February 21, 2006
Jeffrey J. Gross, Red Light Cameras a Great City Funds Raiser
Janene Renaud, Pool Proposal Wrong for Johnston
[Note: This material is copyright by the Des Moines Register, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Des Moines Register.]
Wants don't justify aquatic center
The clear-thinking adults in Johnston need to get out and vote against the proposed aquatic center on Feb. 28.
Some of the citizens want this center built. I've heard and read "we want it for the kids." Whose kids? At the meeting at the (Johnston) library on Feb. 15, it was touted as a regional facility, hopefully drawing people from as far as 30 miles away. The projections suggest that 500 people a day who have not bought season passes will use it. Add in 800 singles or families who have bought passes. Better get there early, if I understand this correctly. Especially if you want a place to park in the 250 spaces planned.
Oh wait, they said, kids won't all be driving themselves and parking their cars there. Some will walk. On what trails? From as far way as east of Merle Hay? Oh wait, they may bike. There won't be trails all the way to the pool. They might need to cross Merle Hay, 86th, and/or 62nd? Safety considered, I'll be running my grandchildren through the Elmo sprinkler in my backyard.
The folks who say "we want it" are reminiscent of the stomping children at the grocery checkout lane (Give us another vote!). Only this isn't a 75-cent candy bar they are asking for. "Mom" (the fiscally responsible citizens of Johnston) may have several good reasons for rejecting the woeful plea, none of which will satisfy the demanding child.
Try these on: Costs, including insurance, roads, quality staffing, trails, more parking and a couple of million dollars in interest on the bonds (brings our total closer to $10 million). That is supposing the center will indeed pay for itself, which will require packing 1,000 swimmers per day in there for all unlikely 85 days of the year it will actually be open. Also, there are reportedly 10 other similar centers within a 15-mile radius. Can you say "oversaturation?"
Des Moines pools will be reducing their admission to approximately one-third of what Johnston will be charging, because their usage has been dropping. Can we compete with that? Furthermore, Urbandale's deal with the Y is falling through.
Perhaps the reasonable thing to do would be to go back to the Community Education Committee report of 2003. Not the Pool Committee reports. Overwhelmingly, in the Community Education report, representatives of Johnston citizens, businesses, seniors, schools, and the city itself said Johnston needed a complete recreational facility, with indoor and outdoor pools, sports courts, exercise facilities, and meeting rooms for kids, adults and seniors. Not an extravagant aquatic center, set up for head-to-head competition with Clive and West Des Moines.
Let's continue to cooperatively plan with communities around us. Only next time, let's get real about it. Let's plan something we need instead of something we want, and while we're at it, make it something we can afford. That will be good for the kids.
I am a Johnston resident and mother of two young daughters.
Like most Johnston residents, I have been closely following the aquatic center decision process - from the original plans to have a pool facility in Johnston Commons, to the Camp Dodge analysis, to the YMCA/Johnston facility analysis, to the current Grimes/Johnston aquatic center proposal.
As a mother, I would love to have a local facility to take my girls to play and swim. However, based on a number of issues with the current proposal, I have to vote "no" on Feb. 28. The three primary issues affecting my decision are the chosen location, the short operating season, and the uncertainties surrounding the actual cost of operation.
The proposal being voted upon places the aquatic center in Grimes, not Johnston. From the center of Johnston to the proposed facility is 5.2 miles. This will place children in harm's way in getting to a facility that is only accessible via heavily traveled roads like 86th Street and Northwest 70th Avenue. My children will not be able to ride their bicycles safely to their neighborhood pool, but rather we parents will need to drive our children to the proposed facility.
In contrast, from the center of Johnston, it is slightly over three miles to the Urbandale pool and eight miles to the Clive Aquatic Center, and there are seven additional aquatic centers or pools within 10 miles of the center of Johnson, eight if you include our own Crown Point facility. All of the projected attendance estimates for the Johnston facility depend upon Johnston taking customers and revenue from all of these other cities. Hardly a good neighbor.
I understand there are some plans to build commercial space next to the proposed aquatic center. This will have the additional adverse effect of taking money away from Merle Hay Road businesses and moving it next to and into Grimes.
The proposed plan states that the aquatic center will be open for 80 to 85 days per year, not including closures for poor attendance or inclement weather. This is a very small benefit to my family and me, especially when you consider the overall impact on the next 15 to 20 years of property taxes and the uncertainty of ongoing operational costs.
The annual operational costs of the facility are the final area of concern. The estimated expenditures that have been circulated for this facility are 10 percent less than the $378,000 current operating costs of Clive, but the size of the facility is 50 percent larger. This logical flaw has not been widely discussed, and it is just assumed the facility will somehow break even. This is not a realistic assumption.
If Johnston residents are going to spend $4 million and uncertain ongoing operational expenses to build an aquatic center, let's build something that will be of benefit to all of Johnston, our children, families and businesses, as well as our overall economic growth. Let's plan a Johnston aquatic park, not a Grimes aquatic park funded by Johnston taxpayers.
Jeffrey J. Gross
I applaud the city of Clive for its diligence in finding methods to collect additional revenue for our city without increasing taxes. ["More red-light runners will have to pay," Des Moines Register community publications, Feb. 17] The generation of revenue through the utilization of camera systems used to monitor red-light violations has tremendous potential. . . . My understanding is the first year's revenue for such a system is conservatively estimated at $920,000. At first glance, this sounds like a tremendous opportunity for the city of Clive to generate $920,000 of additional revenue. On second glance, and after performing some quick number crunching, this equates to just over 12,000 stoplight tickets ($75/ticket) issued in the first year. Yes, 12,000 stoplight tickets in Clive - population 14,125 - in just one year. There were only 100 stoplight tickets written in Clive in 2004. . . .
Another item to consider with the stoplight system being implemented is the contract being signed with Arizona-based Redflex. The contract with Redflex is to install and operate the camera systems and to perform the billing process. My understanding is the city of Clive will pay from $336,000 to $420,000 (current estimates are $4,000 to $5,000 per camera per month) to Redflex for installing and operating the system. So, the actual estimated revenue now falls between $500,000 and $585,000; still, not bad additional revenue for the city. However, at what sacrifice is this revenue presented? Some citizens might argue the annual $336,000 to $420,000 contracted with Redflex could be spent more efficiently, and better yet, locally. Five thousand dollars per camera per month ($35,000 per month for the seven camera system being considered) seems like an exorbitant amount of money to pay a company just to review video and mail tickets.
I personally believe surveillance systems used to monitor public spaces are a benefit to the security and protection of society. Additionally, these systems assist our public safety officials in performing their jobs more efficiently and safely. However, I have had numerous conversations this past week with several metro-area residents concerned the proposed stoplight ticketing system is a violation of their civil rights. This brings up a whole other topic . . . I'll leave up to the law and philosophy professors at our colleges and universities.
If our city is in need of an additional $500,000 to help improve services and provide additional public safety, maybe we should consider an increase in taxes. Or, maybe a fee could be structured to help generate the needed revenue. Clive residents enjoy the lowest property tax rates throughout the metropolitan area. In fact, our property tax rates are 25 percent less than our Des Moines counterparts. My rough calculations show an increase of 3 percent in Clive property taxes (equates to $70 for a house assessed at $150,000) would generate an additional $500,000 plus. I assure you, I dislike the idea of increasing taxes as much as anyone. However, in this situation, a slight increase in taxes or fees seems a much more practical and efficient use of our hard-earned dollars than sending $336,000 to $420,000 to a company based in Arizona just to have them collect another $500,000.
Whether you are paying stoplight tickets or you are paying taxes, you are still incurring the out-of-pocket expense. However, in this case, the tax or fee-based options are considerably less than the cost of paying 12,000 stoplight tickets.
Jeffrey J. Gross