Civic Center Fix Won’t Defund Streets

two cents photo 4-1-17This recent submission to “Your Two Cents” is from a writer who believes the Civic Center Arena proposal (not yet presented for consideration) will take much needed funding away from street repairs. The writer is incorrect, but not without basis.

The proposed replacement of the Barnett Arena, rejected by voters in 2015 caused a whirlwind of rumors and false information. Once out, these rumors became the common theme of communication surrounding the proposal. One such rumor, was that street or other infrastructure repairs would be placed on hold for a number of years. Anyone hearing that rumor had reason to question the City’s ability to fund such a project as the $180 million arena. I won’t try to correct the last proposal’s issues but I will share a preview into the current, yet incomplete proposal: (1) No money designated for street improvements will be used to fund modifications to the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, and: (2) Taxes will not be raised to fund the modifications. The funding will come from 50% of the current “Vision Fund” tax collections which is a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in the 1970s and again in the 1990s. The fund has contributed to many community projects ranging from swimming pools to parks to soccer fields. This fund has not traditionally been used for streets and was originally used to build the Civic Center. We have received a debt service projection for scenarios including repairing or replacing the Barnett Arena, each with annual payments of $6.5 million or less. There is much more to come on this subject.

Finally, the writer speaks of a “$25 million shortfall” to fix our streets. This phrase came from a City Council meeting during which Councilman Jerry Wright presented a report on the status of infrastructure funding and concluded that we were $25 million behind in achieving a realistic repair and replacement plan. No one can disagree with the report from an engineering or technical standpoint, but the overall goal of perfect streets is something needing more discussion. Without doing any real math on the subject, it seems pretty clear that in order to raise an additional $25 million for streets and infrastructure without raising taxes, we would have to eliminate parks and pools, all recreational operations including golf courses, maintenance of bike trails, eliminate the library, sell the Civic Center, de-fund code enforcement, risk management, community development and much of the Planning Department and strip our police and fire departments to the bare minimum, not to mention ending funding to all arts and other community assets that exist to enhance our community and its members. Then, voilà! enough money to pursue perfect streets!

Street and infrastructure funding is a concern in Rapid City, just like it is in every city in America. Rapid City will continue to fund street repairs and is actively looking for ways to divert funds from lower priority programs as one means of doing so. In the meantime, see the pothole or crack in the road as money spent on other important community needs.

Citizen input is needed, but uninformed criticism cannot help solve this issue.