Total losses for 15 yrs. $1.5M BRC not to close
By DONNA FARLEY
City officials made new promises Thursday that the Black River Coliseum is not going to close, and that it will continue receiving sales tax money currently used to support its operations.
Figures presented to the coliseum advisory board put total losses at approximately $1.5 million for the entirety of the coliseum's 15 years of operation. The information came from accountant and city consultant Neil Conway, who also provided the information to the city finance committee.
City officials answered questions from the citizen board concerning how the coliseum operation compares to other departments, as well as how utility costs and sales tax revenue are treated within their budget.
It's important to open these lines of communication, committee member Amber Richardson said.
"I don't think it's a distraction. I think these are the kinds of questions people in the public have," she explained. "We can't serve our roll if we don't really understand."
Advisory board members told city manager Heath Kaplan, Mayor Angela Pearson and Mayor pro tem Jack Rushin, who attended the meeting, they want to work with the city to resolve the coliseum's issue. They do not want this to be an adversarial process, according to the board.
Kaplan has said for months the coliseum losses top $1 million a year, creating critical problems in balancing the city budget.
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The higher calculation was based on what it would take for the coliseum to operate on its own, without sales tax revenue and other considerations, Conway said. The cost of utilities was counted against the facility, although no city departments pay for utilities.
The tourism sales tax funds and the capital improvement sales tax money received by the coliseum annually were not counted in its favor, although that money pays for certain expenses, according to the discussion.
Committee member Mitch Davis asked if the city will begin charging the coliseum for utilities.
Kaplan said the city does not plan to do that.
Committee members also noted that the loan for the construction of the building will be repaid in 2018. This debt is paid from the city's capital improvement fund, which covers equipment and building needs citywide.
Davis and Richardson asked if a portion of the money from the building payment could be redirected to coliseum maintenance after 2018.
Kaplan said he believes it will have to be.
"I think the intentions of the voters was that go to the coliseum," Richardson said.
The capital improvement sales tax money would not exist at all if the voters had not approved the coliseum project, Kaplan said.
Tourism tax money is directed by city ordinance to be used for "convention and tourism facilities" and tourism marketing. The coliseum receives tourism tax money in both ways.
The city could also consider asking voters for a tax measure specifically to fund police and fire operations, Kaplan said. This would free up money from other funds to cover expenses at the coliseum and other departments. Kaplan said this was merely an option and he was not advocating for a tax increase.
Richardson also asked if other city departments are entirely self sustaining.
The city has to consider what its core functions are, Kaplan said. It has to provide fire protection and clean water, he said.
"We don't need this to be able to function as a government," he said. "I would guide people toward that in answering that question."
The city had stronger cash reserves when it absorbed coliseum losses in previous budget years, according to Conway.
"My question to the voters, to the investors of this community is, are you willing to give up 12-15 police officers to balance the budget here?" Kaplan said. "You can have your facility, but it's got to come out of somewhere."
Rushin said if coliseum losses could be reduced to $100,000 annually it would be easier for the general fund to help support the facility. He did not say how the losses would be calculated.
The committee provided a breakdown of general fund cash spending for coliseum operations which showed (figures approximate): $223,100 in 2010; $243,500 in 2011; $66,300 in 2012; and $145,400 in 2013.
Rushin asked that coliseum employees begin working to create a Friends group which could help support the facility through volunteer hours and donations.
He also suggested the city might invest in different types of flooring to allow more sporting events to be held at the coliseum.
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