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Allegan County bond issue highlights expense of fitness facilities

Wayland Union School District in Allegan County has a bond issue on the ballot there next month. The proposal would generate nearly $50M for new fitness facilities and a new fine arts space.

WUSD has a pool that is about 50 years old. The existing facility no longer meets the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s standards for swim competitions. In addition, the pool has outlived its useful life. It’s falling apart and the repairs to the pool would be very costly. The proposal would provide enough funding build a new “community pool” facility and remodel the current pool space into a fine arts facility for the school’s band and orchestra programs.

The proposal wouldn’t actually increase the current tax rate on properties in the district. Instead, it would extend (for 25 years) a current millage that will otherwise expire. The authorization in question is large – 8.4 mills. That means a homeowner in the district will pay $840 per 100,000 of taxable value. That’s $21,000 (per $100,000 of taxable value) over the life of the authorization.

My point is not to advocate for or against the millage. (“Not my circus. Not my monkeys.”) Instead, I want to point out how expensive pools and their accompanying facilities are. It takes a lot of money to build and operate pools and other fitness facilities. They require continuous maintenance, repair, and upgrades to remain safely operational. Ignoring maintenance on these facilities is not an option.

I could argue that the Wayland Union School District is unnecessarily committing to a 25-year responsibility. If the community wants a pool, the community should figure out how to make that happen. Since they haven’t done that yet, were I a voter there, I would assume that the taxpayers don’t want a pool.

Public fitness facilities should have a dedicated income stream

As I read the situation, Wayland Union School District needs (or more likely wants) a new pool, and it is willing to open the facility to the public as a means to an end.

Fortunately for the district voters, the issue is on the ballot. They get to decide whether they want to spend literally millions of dollars per year to build, operate, and maintain a pool – mostly for the school – with some open hours for the community.

The voters in the Washtenaw Community College District weren’t given that opportunity. Instead of asking the voters for funding for The Health and Fitness Center, the Board of Trustees merely appropriated money the voters authorized for the operation of the college. They built fitness facilities that are largely unrelated to the mission of the institution and saddled the voters with the payments for them for 20 years. Without a dedicated income stream to pay for the facility, WCC is committed to pulling money from its operational budget each year to make sure the building doesn’t fall in on itself.

If you doubt the impact of the expense of these fitness facilities on the operating budget, last year, WCC transferred $4M of federal COVID-19 relief dollars to cover the building’s losses. The Health and Fitness Center at WCC is an expensive boondoggle that the College cannot afford to operate at a loss. It also can’t rely on the facility to generate sufficient funds to cover all costs associated with its operation.

The timing for the Wayland Union School District millage extension probably couldn’t be worse. At least the voters there will have a say in whether and how the funds they authorized for education get spent.

Photo Credit: Marc , via Flickr