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Editorial: Should cities build recreation centers?

Published: July 16, 2017 4:00 AM

We certainly support providing people with opportunities to become fit and stay that way.

But we have many questions about the proposed recreation centers in Kent and Streetsboro and their supporting bond issues that will appear on ballots in both communities Nov. 7.

Kent's proposal calls for a $17.5 million bond issue for 28 years costing homeowners $88 per $100,000 of property value annually. It would fund construction -- but not operations -- of a 73,000-square-foot facility likely to include gyms, a child-care area, track, multipurpose classroom, cardio machines, free weights, group exercise rooms and an indoor turf field.

Streetsboro's plan is more costly as it includes similar features and a pool in a 90,000-square-foot facility with a price tag of $15 million. Homeowners would pay $175 per $100,000 of property value annually if approved, with some funding targeted for the parks department, too.

These two Portage County communities would join a growing number of communities, including Tallmadge, Cuyahoga Falls, and Twinsburg, with facilities where residents pay additional fees to use the gyms, workout machines and more. Fees in Tallmadge run from $264 to $384 annually for various packages, for example.

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Each of these centers work on tight budgets just to break even and some operate at a loss.

While we could support these projects, our first fundamental question is whether governments should be in the business of running fitness centers in the first place. There are private options for workout facilities and many offer a lower cost, albeit with less features than a comprehensive community center.

Yes, it's been traditional for many communities to run outdoor swimming pools largely because they are at best break-even ventures. A workout center is another matter, especially in Kent where you're replacing a lower-cost storefront run by the city that charges just $10 per month.

Our first preference would be for a YMCA to set up shop in our community, with construction costs coming from private fund-raising efforts, not taxes.

We're also concerned by Kent's somewhat vague plans being presented at this time, a point that was reinforced with a recent conversation on whether the facility also could function as a senior center. We'd be far more likely to support a specific plan spelling out not only what would be built, but also how it will be used and operated in a financially sound manner.

We're also not clear on how the Kent center ties into the athletic needs of Kent schools, which has limited indoor space at Roosevelt for multiple team practices. Would rec league basketball games take place in the new center?

Supporters of this project also should realize Kent voters just passed an increase in the city's income tax from 2 percent to 2.25 percent effective in 2014. What happens if our schools need additional funding in the coming years? When will voters deem local taxes to be too high and reject a more pressing need than a rec center?

There very well may be great answers for all of these questions. But they'll need to be successfully communicated to voters before Election Day if these issues have a chance at winning.


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