After Creston City Council failed to pass a resolution last month to set a public hearing date to discuss a $500,000 for the McKinley Park Aquatic Center renovation, many supporters of the city-owned pool thought the project was dead in the water.
However, the council voted 4-2 Tuesday to host a public hearing during the council’s Aug. 17 meeting. The loan agreement MPAC seeks would pertain to the issuance of tax-payer money from the city’s general obligation fund, which is not to exceed $700,000.
Council members Terry Freeman and Rich Madison continued to vote against holding a public hearing. Jocelyn Blazek, Brian Davis, Brenda Lyell-Keate and Matt Levine voted in support of public hearing. Ron Higgins was absent.
During last night’s council meeting, Samantha Baird spoke during open forum to address comments that were made during the council’s July 20 meeting.
“A comment was made likening either myself, the MPAC committee and/or our donors to committing a federal crime in the form of blackmail. The insinuation that we are committing a federal crime by asking the city to invest a taxpayer fund into a city-owned and operated facility is, quite frankly insulting and borderline slanderous,” she said.
Baird referenced another comment made that MPAC had no “skin in the game” and more fundraising needs to be done by MPAC.
“If I could count all the hours the MPAC committee spent on fundraising, strategizing and working on this project, I assure you you would be astounded,” said Baird. “Not only do we have ‘skin in the game,’ we have poured thousands of our own dollars, blood sweat and now many tears into the project.”
MPAC is seeking additional funds from the city so it can secure grants. Because of the city’s lack of buy-in, MPAC was forced to return approximately $1 million in grant money.
“The fact that we’ve received numerous competitive grants from numerous organizations around the state and even outside of the state for this project proves to you the merit of the project,” Baird said. “It was extremely disheartening when we were forced to give $1 million back from our largest grant award, but even more discouraging that our own city leaders fail to see the benefit of this project while so many others that are in the business of evaluating and selecting projects for grant awards find value in our project.”
Baird said she understands each council person is entitled to their own opinion.
“But considering you only heard from six constituents prior to the last meeting and refusing to allow a public hearing so the rest of the community could have their voices heard on the issue is not any form of democracy I’m interested in,” Baird said. “I certainly hope that anyone else that has an idea to better our community and works their ass off to privately fundraise for a city facility is not discouraged from the turn of events this project has taken.”
Baird said comparing the current request to the past bond issue is unfair.
“Stating that the voice of the people has already been heard on the project at the time of the bond is like comparing apples to oranges,” Baird said.
Baird said the three bond issues – McKiinley Park Aquatic Center Renovation, McKinley Lake Restoration project, and the Gibson Memorial Library expansion project – on the November 2019 ballot never had a chance to pass as they were forced on to ballot all at once.
“Allowing so many items on a ballot at once, knowing full well that they would not pass together is not the fault of The MPAC, nor the Park and Rec board, nor the library. That is on you,” Baird said.
Of those who claim the pool loses money for the city, Baird said are misguided.
“Only for-profit businesses lose money,” Baird said. “The city is a governmental entity that collects tax to be utilized for services and amenities for the greater good of its citizens, not to turn a profit.”
If the city is considered a profit-making amenity for the city, Baird suggested making an “accurate comparison.”
“Let’s compare money generated by the pool versus the city works department or the fire department and also compare costs to operate those departments and see which one loses the most,” she said. “If we are going to compare which area the city loses the most money, I suspect it won’t be the pool.”
The city pool is an amenity, said Baird.
“Amenities help communities grow, encourage workforce to live in the community, bring families to town, increase enrollment in our schools, and attract visitors and tourists,” Baird said. “Amenities should not be viewed as a want. They are a service the city provides for the benefit of its community members, no different than roads, or fire services or public works. Stop viewing it as either/or. The city is supposed to provide both.”
At-Large Representative Terry Freeman explained why he is not in support of the hearing.
“This is a great project for the city of Creston, however, as I’ve shared with same and as I’ve shared with Jeremy, both from the committee, we as council members have to really differentiate between wants and needs,” said Freeman.
Freeman said he has yet to hear from anyone who claims “We need to do this” and other city projects take precedence.
“MPAC is not the first organization that has had to give money back from their fundraising,” said Freeman. “Ask the library. They’ve worked their tails off probably longer than MPAC to try to raise money. The library is more impactful to our community in my opinion, the youth of our community, and they are still fundraising. They are not here asking for money.”
Despite voting against holding a public hearing, Freeman said he’s not trying to stifle democracy.
“This is our third meeting, open forum, people can come talk to us about it. People certainly haven’t had any issues sending emails or texts or calls to me,” said Freeman. “Unless we take it to a ballot, good luck getting 100% because I guarantee you 80% of Creston doesn’t even know we have a meeting tonight.”
Representative Matt Levine told Freeman he’s “putting the horse before the cart.”
“We’re not agreeing to anything, yet. All we’re agreeing to is listen to the public,” said Levine. “I can not believe we are going to vote against that.”
Freeman said he’s not against the public speaking.
“Obviously you are,” said Levine.
Freeman emphasized the public is welcome to contact their representatives and speak at public forums.
A public hearing to consider a loan agreement between the city of Creston and MPAC will be held during the council meeting Aug 17. Creston City Council meetings are held 6 p.m. on the first and third Tuesday on the second floor of Creston City Hall. The public is welcome to speak for three minutes on any city matter during the public forum.