Opinion

If I were czar, I would close the Community Center | Jarvis

The Federal Way Community Center is located at 876 S. 333rd St. - Courtesy of the City of Federal Way
The Federal Way Community Center is located at 876 S. 333rd St.
— image credit: Courtesy of the City of Federal Way

If I were Czar of Federal Way, I would immediately close the Community Center. Why? The Community Center is a massive money pit. How massive?

According to the city’s 2013/2014 proposed budget, during 2012, transfers of taxpayer dollars into the Community Center totaled $1,769,000. While I suppose you can make a case that like a park, the Community Center adds value to the community, I think you would be hard pressed to claim that it provides more value than would the 15 police officers or 25 school teachers that could be hired for this same sum of money.

For those of you following along at home with your own copy of the city’s 334-page budget, here is how we came to a taxpayer subsidy of $1,769,000 in 2012: $915,000, $619,000 and $87,000 from the Utility Tax Fund; $98,000 from the General Fund; $25,000 from the Law Department; and $25,000 from Human Resources.

I fully expect the city to refute these numbers as their government accounting system shows a loss of “just” $520,505. However, with my degree in business finance, as a certified financial planner and as a business owner, I am confident that my numbers accurately reflect the true cost to taxpayers of keeping the doors open at the Community Center.

What I find even more upsetting than annual losses of $1.8 million is that the 2003-2008 city councils promoted the Community Center as something that would largely pay for itself. In 2007, the city staff/council projected an annual loss of “only” $300,000, which would put it in line with the annual cost of Celebration Park (ignoring the capital costs of both projects).

Because politicians and city employees cannot be held personally liable for bad business decisions (whereas I could lose everything if my business went sideways), as citizens we have three options for dealing with money pits such as the Community Center.

Option #1: For decades to come, we continue to pay for the mistakes of our 2003-2008 city councils. This is sadly the most likely option as the mayor and city council seem unwilling to acknowledge this problem.

Option #2: Bring in new management. As czar, I would call the management teams at L.A. Fitness, YMCA, Wild Waves or any other profitable organization to see if any of them could stop the bleeding.

Option #3: Shut it down. This won’t end the bleeding, but in the case of the Community Center, it would cut the bleeding in half. Even if option #2 could work, I would still seriously consider shutting down the Community Center as the $1.6 million in revenues it generates annually comes from the lost revenues of private businesses that don’t have the luxury of a $1.8 million taxpayer subsidy.

At a minimum, we must not believe anyone at City Hall who claims their next project will largely pay for itself. Like the Community Center and SCORE jail, I’d be willing to bet large sums of money that the proposed performing arts center will be a massive money pit.

While the Community Center’s 2,100 pass-holders may be furious with my proposal, the other 86,000-plus citizens of Federal Way may welcome a refund of the $20 they are paying each year to keep the Community Center open.

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Note: Jarvis authored this article as a private citizen and not on behalf of the editorial board.

 

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