Sunday, January 25, 2009

Karnak on Sports

I had to go to archives for this one, but Jan. 27, 2007 I wrote "Karnak at the Council". I include from that, the following quote:

"In other action, Council approved, as expected, the tennis courts deal. I seem to have gotten their attention by appealing, tongue in cheek, for funds to provide the San Angelo Billiards Association, of which I am a member, a central pool hall with say, 24 regulation size tables. Discussing this later with individual members, I was surprised that almost none seemed to have considered the possibility of creating a Facilities Corp. to deal with the now inevitable requests from every sports group in town. “If tennis gets money, why can't (curling, archery, paintball, pick your pet)”, will be the litany. Tennis got a rather substantial sum, by the way, $750,000 total. "With that precedent, I can promise you other sports enthusiasts will be appearing before Council, hat in hand, asking that said hat be filled with public money."

Well, whodathunkit, Council is now wrestling with funding for a Little League request, they want money. I think it's time we got serious about the Sports Facilities Corp. option. This is provided for, dare I say, encouraged by Local Gov't Code Chap. 303 of Texas Statutes.

If Council approves such a Corporation it would provide future sports related supplicants an opportunity and give Council a buffer between them and direct tax expenditures. The Facilities Corp. would be empowered to take a proposal, issue bonds, sell them and repay them, all without a link to the City budget. It would say to future applicants "bring us a good business plan, we can issue bonds and see if anybody bites".

Yes, we have a troubled economy, but part of that, people with money are looking for some place more productive than "under the bed" to put investments. Every time a sports proposal is brought forth we hear all sorts of optimistic numbers thrown about as to the "economic impact" of (pick your pet sport). Having applicants first come before a Sports Facilities Corp. board would put a little market discipline into this numerology.

There would always remain the option of after review, coming before Council, hat abjectly in hand, and making a case for one's pet project being worthy of taxpayer subsidy. Council would, one hopes, have better numbers to play with. Going back to tennis, I own one tennis ball. I use it to fluff up the goosedown in my coat when I tumble-dry it. Why is my tax money paying for lights on tennis courts I will never use? Otra vez, I love badmiton, an impossible game to play in West Texas wind. Where are my badmition courts?

This Council has made great strides toward future fiscal responsibility in capital improvements, including a Charter Amendment to make some of that improvement binding on future Councils. We should start subjecting sports related items to a similar budget discipline. The day of simply stating "it's for the kids and it will bring in a kazillion dollars in economic impact" needs to be put on the far back burner.

I'm not trying to be the Grinch here. I'd love to see more kids active in sports of all kinds. Try HEB on a weekend, we have too many kids whose girth equals or exceeds their height. When I was a kid, I did Little League, swimming, wrestling in school, martial arts on my own. Best I recall, once the facility was built, it was up to the league to support itself. Sell ads, wash cars, cajole sponsors, that was up to us.

There is not a lot of down-side to a responsibly managed Sports Facilities Corp. Best case, a good plan is presented, bonded, bond-holders get paid, we have a new sport ongoing, and might actually see some favorable "economic impact". Worst case, the business plan falls short and we have a vacant field of dreams. Key word is "responsible". While Chap. 303 protects the authorizing entity (City of San Angelo) from direct liability, IF we put a bunch of over-enthusiastic cowboys in charge and a few bonds go south, that could indirectly affect the city by tainting us with potential City bond investors. Upside of that scenario the "sponsoring entity" can rein in the corporation as needed. Should the corporation issue an ill-advised bond, well, we can't unscramble that egg, but we could fire the chef so to speak and keep him from scrambling any more.

As Karnak predicted in 2007, the tennis precedent has encouraged others to come before Council, empty hat in hand. We should take a good look at the Chap 303 option for future funding and screening of proposals.

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