With several budget related and other issues behind them, City Council should be able to begin a discussion on the recently completed audit of the Recreation Department and the management of the business end of the facilities at the Fairgrounds on Coffeen Street.
Identifying and correcting past issues is part of the equation but from a policy perspective the Council needs to make some decisions.
One major decision is to determine what the facilities are to be used for. Back in the the day the Fairgrounds hosted the Fair, and some youth and family sports events. Now there is a trend towards major commercial, even nightclub style activities going on in various facilities.
In areas as basic as rest rooms , there continue to be disturbing public health issues which don't need description here. Let's just say 'when nature calls...."
There are legal issues about the sale of alcoholic beverages in a venue that is not licensed for the sale of such items. Its a complicated area of law that the City has not been dealing well with.
Previous studies have detailed the actual cost to taxpayers of staging major events, yet little of this is covered by facility rental fees.
Councils have been reluctant to impose fees that allow for the kind of facility improvements to handle the kind of events going on there. The rationale is always that its done for a "not for profit." Yet these are really commercial events in which the budgets are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars yet the venue is rented for $500.
Lawmakers are not there to "micro manage", but we are there to set the goals and objectives for the facility. My expectation is that it be run in a businesslike manner, consistent with state law and with revenues able to offset at least part of the capital improvements needed to make the facilities a suitable spot for those agencies, businesses and individuals that choose to use it.
Those who follow City Council know my public pronouncements have not revolved around individual recriminations, and the pending nature of certain seasonal events have prevented doing much this year to change things.
However, changes are needed and that may include having a facility & business manager. It should include total transparency so in the area of accounts receivable and account aging, the public knows who owes the City money and for how long. Finally, the Council needs to reach a consensus on a fee structure that is fair....that reflects the true costs to those renting it...and one that is collected and not undermined by a reluctance to not charge certain groups or individuals.
It will be difficult politics, but the conversation must be had to end the revelations that have overshadowed the many otherwise fine activities that go on at the Arena.
Watertown Daily Times Internal city audit going back to 2005