City Council members might feel like the car owner who finally makes a trip to the mechanic’s shop after putting off repairs for years and years.
It’s not just the tires and the brakes. You need a new transmission, head gasket and suspension work. When you get home you find that the roof is leaking and the furnace is on the fritz. The car owner is wishing he or she had bought Bitcoin when it was low.
The city’s elected leaders might be experiencing a similar feeling right now, although their lifeline comes from taxpayers and not virtual currency. Council members heard Wednesday that the total cost of repairs could come to $24 million at the Civic Arena. St. Joseph’s two outdoor, public pools need upgrades that would cost anywhere from $6 million to $15 million.
Wednesday’s council work session took place in the gloomy confines of Civic Arena. The setting seemed to drive home the need at a facility that once attracted recognized acts but now enters its midlife crisis age and lacks an operating Downtown hotel to anchor it.
The city pools didn’t even open last year, mostly due the coronavirus pandemic, but maintenance issues have proved limiting in the past.
Is that it? No. It was hard to digest the information at the meeting — and it was just information, no action was taken — without contemplating the $52 million elephant in the room. That’s the amount the city may seek in a bond issue for repairs to Krug Park, as well as ancillary road improvements.
We don’t know how a Krug Park bond will fare at the ballot box, although its supporters were organized in an unscientific online poll last week. Tax issues tend to get more support when the benefits are broadly dispersed. That would mean a parks tax or a parks bond, not an issue for one specific facility. Ask the CIP committee or the school district about the benefits of a wide net.
But the city doesn’t seem interested in that, which leaves us with separate projects that all have their worth and, presumably, their share of political backing. Krug Park’s amphitheater does need to reach its potential. It would be hard to revitalize Downtown without a more modern, comfortable arena. A city the size of St. Joseph should be able to offer kids one operating municipal pool in the summer. Instead, some local summer camps send kids to pools in Savannah and Wathena.
So the council may have to make some choices and decide on its priorities. It would be easy to say that the Krug Park bond is a different pool of money than general revenue for Civic Arena and the pools, but something tells us the voter might not see it that way.
If the city’s elected officials have trouble saying no, then the voters will probably do it for them.