By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Strong opinions abounded at the Goshen City Council meeting Wednesday evening as council members and community members weighed the pros and cons of a proposed $35.6 million Goshen Community Center project.
Bruce Stahly, former Goshen Community Schools superintendent and a lead organizer for the project, went before the council Wednesday to provide a detailed presentation on the multi-million dollar project.
According to Stahly, the bulk of the $35.6 million project would involve the construction of a $27.6 million structure located at the former city garage property on the Millrace’s west side that would include an aquatic center with a wellness and therapy pool; a recreation pool and a competition pool; a gymnasium, a fitness center with an indoor track and meeting rooms.
In addition to the community center, the project would also involve approximately $7 million in renovations and construction at Goshen High School and Goshen Middle School which would reclaim current spaces and add on to fitness areas. Through the school renovations, Stahly noted that the pool areas of both schools would be converted to new spaces to help alleviate space problems in music programs and add additional workout and fitness spaces. He noted that the project would be paid for through a combination of private partners, donors and bonds issued to taxpayers.
However, in order to proceed, the project must first pass through two preliminary determination hearings, the first with the city council Jan. 15 and the second with the school board Jan. 28, Stahly said. He said that the preliminary determination hearings are needed in order to decide whether or not the project should be voted on through a referendum in May.
If approved by the council and school board, the two-part referendum would then go to Goshen voters, asking for the taxpayers to take on a 20-year bond issue, Stahly said. According to numbers provided by Stahly during Wednesday’s presentation, the maximum city tax impact looks to be $18.4 million, while the school corporation’s maximum tax impact is $17.2 million, for a combined maximum total of $35.575 million.
While the council will not formally rule on whether or not to allow the project to be voted on through a referendum until its upcoming Jan. 15 meeting, council members Wednesday allowed members of the public to speak either for or against the proposal.
Among the first to speak in opposition of the project was Goshen resident Fred Buttell, who raised concerns centering on issues such as how the community center would be funded in the long term.
“How will it pay for itself?” Buttell asked.
In response, Stahly said the facility will offer a number of programs through organizations such as the Parks Department that will be fee-based. Stahly also noted that center memberships could run upward of $200 a year for an individual or $450 for a family.
Buttell also raised concerns that while only a small fraction of the Goshen community will likely use such a center, all city taxpayers would be required to pay for it. He also pointed to concerns that the new facility could create competition for other fitness centers already established in Goshen.
Goshen resident Doug Nisley also raised similar concerns, stating he felt that the large number of fitness facilities already located in Goshen should be able to provide nearly everything the proposed community center would provide without the need to spend nearly $28 million dollars.
Goshen resident John Huber also pointed to the recent issues with the so-called “fiscal cliff” and recently approved tax increases as just another reason why more taxes on Goshen residents is not a good idea at this time.
“After what Congress just did, it scares me to death,” Huber said, to which Goshen resident Brenda Kramer agreed.
“I just feel the average Goshen citizen cannot afford this,” Kramer said. “We’re supposed to be rebounding, but this rebound may not last.”
As one of the only members of the public to speak in favor of the proposal Wednesday, Goshen resident Bill Rieth urged the council to allow the referendum to proceed regardless of whether or not they personally felt it was warranted. Allowing the referendum to proceed, he said, would give everyone in the community a voice on the matter.
“We’re only asking to let the public vote on this,” Rieth said.