The world, America, and the State of North Dakota are feeling the devastating financial effects of COVID-19— also known as the Coronavirus. As I write this, the North Dakota Department of Health announced two new cases today. That brings the total to 28— 15 of those in Burleigh County.
Between the severe dip in oil prices and the effects of the virus, many North Dakotans are hurting. Last week our state saw 418 unemployment claims. There were 1,600 on Thursday of this week alone.
The White House and lawmakers on Capitol Hill are negotiating what may be a $1.4 Trillion stimulus package. It’s a typical move from politicians who think borrowing and spending more is the solution to most problems.
Not everyone in Washington, DC has the good sense of Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who called upon his colleagues a few days ago to “stop wasting money in a time of crisis.” And when Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says, “We are making very good progress,” that’s probably not a good thing. But I digress.
Americans are being forced into a situation that demands more frugality. Government should certainly be looking to put more money in the pockets of its citizens. But how about less spending and more tax breaks as a means of doing it? Let’s not pretend that government can’t get smaller— it can.
Having said all this, let’s bring this to a local level.
Amidst this pandemic, folks in Bismarck are facing a proposal to build a $114.5 million monstrosity of a rec center. Thanks to the Bismarck City Commission — who voted to put the issue to a vote of the people — the proposed tax increase to pay for it will be on the June ballot.
I first wrote about the proposal to build this Temple of Wellness, to the gods of public health, back in November. We said to put a kibosh to it then. We feel even stronger about that now.
There’s an important point worth mentioning here. As noted in a Feasibility Study for the 25-acre complex, there is a projected revenue shortfall of over $464,000 in Year 1 of its existence. Bismarck Parks & Recreation District (BPRD) plans on using nearly $315,000 from their current operating budget to help fill the gap. In other words, they have $315,000 laying around they’re currently not using.
The Bismarck Tribune noted this fact back in January:
“The study expects the center would bring in $2.6 million in revenue annually. Projected expenses would total $3.1 million each year. Expenses not covered by revenue would be paid through the Parks and Recreation budget.”
It’s striking. Not only does BPRD have more money than they need now, but they want the taxpayers to vote themselves a tax increase to boot. Ridiculous.
We should also note that the $114.5 million budget to build the thing is the mid-range figure. According to page 19 of the study, the Budget Range comes in at a low of $108.8 million to a high of $120.2 million.
As you can tell, there’s reasons — even more than what we listed here — that we took the position back in January that this proposal isn’t “conservative”. It’s unthinkable some otherwise sensible people would even claim such a thing.
No. This is an awful idea. Especially in the midst of what the people of Bismarck are dealing with as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The proposal to have this on the June ballot needs to be rescinded— now. And if it’s not, the people of Bismarck need to do what I suggested back in November. Send it to where it belongs— the trash heap of really bad ideas.
City of Bismarck— the ball’s in your court. Choose wisely.
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