Supporters of the performing arts and conference center (PACC) have often heralded the Edmonds Center for the Arts (ECA) as a poster child for the Federal Way project.
Both the unofficial PACC spokesperson and the spokesman for the mayor’s office have claimed that the ECA operates in the black.
As a skeptic of all things financial, I decided to investigate this claim. After several emails, a few phone calls and lots of research, I found a 2012 report from the State Auditor’s office stating that the ECA was “at risk of not meeting its financial obligations.”
Turns out, the ECA is only operating in the black if you ignore nearly $500,000 of annual taxpayer subsidies. When the ECA was built, the City of Edmonds instituted a 0.033 percent sales tax to fund the organization. In addition, Snohomish County agreed to make annual contributions, currently in excess of $200,000.
In order to keep the ECA from missing loan payments, the City of Edmonds has been forced to loan the ECA more than $500,000 over the last few years. While in government accounting this may be considered “operating in the black,” the rest of us consider it to be massively in the red.
So what does this mean for Federal Way? First, the mayor’s office needs to have an honest discussion with the community about how they plan to pay for the construction and operation of the PACC.
Recently, the mayor’s office reported they had $5.4 million of “available funds.” How does a city that has cut millions from the roads budget and 15 positions from the police department have more than $5 million of available funds? At least indirectly, the mayor’s office is trading public safety and potholes for PACC construction.
In addition, the city will be forced to either further cut services and/or raise taxes to cover ongoing subsidies for debt payments and operational losses.
Second, we need accountability. As we have seen with the SCORE jail, it is easy to blame somebody else for a problem that is causing all of us to suffer. PACC supporters and the mayor’s office need to make someone accountable when the PACC requires even more money than is currently projected. Short of finding a private investor (think Chris Hansen and the Sonics), I’m not sure how to do this.
Third, it’s time for PACC supporters to get organized and start a capital campaign. If I were Czar of Federal Way, I wouldn’t commit another dime of taxpayer money until PACC supporters can gather $1 million of their own money (less than 4 percent of the total cost).
In connection with a capital campaign, PACC supporters need a single voice to the community and a system to organize anyone who is willing to help. In addition to generating more support, it will also help control those PACC supporters, including at least one member of the Federal Way City Council, who have resorted to slandering people who express opposition to this project.
For the record, I’m not opposed to building a PACC, as it certainly can’t hurt the downtown redevelopment.
However, I am very much opposed to misleading taxpayers to build yet another pet project that will further erode our public safety.