What’s next for Scott City infrastructure?
By Rod Haxton, editor
Everyone has grand plans for what they like to see in their community.
In Scott City, that discussion has included such things as a movie theater, wellness center and even an indoor swimming pool.
How these projects and others will be paid for is the million dollar question - or multi-million dollar question.
That discussion was at the heart of a meeting of community members who gathered on Wednesday evening as part of the ongoing Public Square process.
Participants were presented with information that showed the amount of bonded indebtedness held by local units of government and the time line for paying off this debt. One of the objectives of viewing this data is for local entities to better communicate plans for major infrastructure projects so that taxpayers don’t feel overwhelmed with being asked to approve and pay off multiple projects at the same time.
That’s an issue that local government officials have been sensitive to, especially after taxpayers did give their support to bond issues in 2009 and 2010 that led to construction of the Law Enforcement Center, Scott County Hospital and Park Lane Nursing Home.
That may also have been a contributing factor to the overwhelming defeat in 2015 of plans to construct a wellness center.
“I’ve heard people say they would like to see us pay things off before we start taking on something new,” noted County Commission Chairman Jim Minnix. “That’s part of the reason we’re here today.”
The county, city and school district currently have combined debt obligations of just over $45 million. More than half of that - $24 million -is owed on the Scott County Hospital.
And while much of this debt will remain on the books until about 2024, school officials were among those noting the district is facing more infrastructure needs.
Supt. Jamie Rumford said growing enrollment is already creating more classroom needs at the elementary school and, in time, those needs will become greater in the middle school and high school.
He said other issues he often hears about from community members are the need for more gymnasium space and added security measures for the high school.
“Typical school districts that are progressive and growing always have a bond issue,” noted Rumford.
In 2002, USD 466 passed a $14.75 million bond for construction/renovation of SCHS. That debt was combined with a 1986 bond issue as well as debt that was refinanced in 1993. That put the total bond issue at $15.6 million.
The debt currently stands at $8.12 million.
While a look at long-term bonded debt was one reason for bringing all the entities together, there was quite a bit of discussion about the wellness center which was rejected by voters last year and the possibility of bringing the issue back.
Scott County Development Director Katie Eisenhour expressed disappointment that the issue failed. Ben Taylor, a school board member who also serves on the recreation commission board, said there was not one particular issue which led to its defeat.
“I heard a lot of reasons - everything from it’s too small to it’s too large,” noted Taylor.
He said that if it’s put back on the ballot again the SRC and others who are backing the idea need to make a bigger effort to get the public’s support.
“We need to know what the public’s vision is,” he said. “Our vision for the center may not be the same as theirs.”
Jason Baker said one common complaint he heard was that it was being paid for with tax dollars, but anyone wanting to use it after 5:00 p.m. had to pay an additional fee.
“There’s still a desire in the community to do something,” said Minnix. “It’s something we’ll continue to wrestle with for the next few years.”
City Councilman Fred Kuntzsch said the center was several years in the making, starting out as “the Taj Mahal” before it was finally scaled back to something that supporters felt the taxpayers would vote for.
“It turned out not to be what the public wanted,” Kuntzsch said.
Mayor Dan Goodman suggested that maybe supporters “didn’t go far enough.”
“Instead of a wellness center, call it a community building,” he said. “That would bring the county and the city on board. I think we underestimated what the public wanted.”
Marc Ramsey, who is a member of the Public Square board, feels that too much focus may have been put on the cost. He said that in discussions he’s been involved with regarding the center “seldom was cost mentioned as a factor.”
“I think the public would still like to see it done,” he said.
There was also discussion during the evening about the need for housing - particularly rentals - and to establish the next generation of community leaders.
“Housing is our big frustration every day,” Eisenhour said. “The private sector has helped. It’s bought us some time, but it’s not enough.”
She said there are plans this spring to have a team of individuals meet with local business people and identify what they see as the primary housing needs.
“We don’t want to overbuild. That’s poor planning,” she said.
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