Liberal City Manager Mark Hall points to a batting cage inside the proposed Liberal Community Recreation Center during a discussion with the We the People group Thursday at Ruffino’s. Hall explained the project then took questions from the group. L&T photo/Earl Watt
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
With only five days to go before the vote to decide whether or not the City of Liberal will approve construction of a community recreation center with a portion of the 1-cent sales tax, Liberal City Manager Mark Hall presented the plan to the We the People group Thursday at Ruffino’s Italian Restaurant.
After giving an overview of the project, Hall fielded a variety of questions from the group, ranging from financing the project to access and more.
Connie Strickland asked if the facility was built, would that take funds away from other projects like street repair.
“No,” Hall said. “What we did first was look at what streets we need to address. We looked at sidewalks, drainage, and after listing those, we said, ‘Ok, how much is left for a rec center?’ And this won’t effect housing, this won’t effect crime prevention or beautification or economic development. All the other projects will still get done, because if we didn’t, you’d come after us. We planned all the other projects first.”
One attendee wanted to know how the city arrived at the projected number of memberships at 2,000.
Hall explained that facilities like the proposal in communities the size of Liberal can expect memberships in the range of 15 to 35 percent of the town’s population.
But the City of Liberal only budgeted 10 percent.
“We wanted to low-ball it,” he said. “We wanted to plan for the worst case scenario. But you look at Garden City, between they YMCA and recreation center, they have 6,900 members. Guymon has 17 percent membership. We’re only looking at 10 percent. Now, if we have 15 percent like the averages say we should have, that would be 3,000 members. Think of what we could do.”
When asked if the membership money goes in the general fund, Hall said the revenue would be part of the 1-cent sales tax.
“This is a 1-cent sales tax project, not a property tax project,” he said. “The money made by the facility goes back in the 1-cent sales tax to fund the operation of the facility.”
In responding to other entities in town that provide activities, Hall said the facility would not compete but actually be a referral location for them.
“We won’t have the free weights to create body builders,” he said. “If you want to do that, go to Southwest Fitness. We won’t become a karate studio. Go to Rine’s (American Freestyle Karate) for that. We won’t become a dance studio. Go to Dance Images for that. But if those folks would like to provide an introductory class at the rec center, and at the end of the class say, ‘Here’s my card,’ they can do that.”
When asked about senior access, Hall pointed out the advantage seniors will have for $17 per month.
“At Garden City’s, if you take a class and you’re a member, you get half price to the class,” Hall said. “In Liberal, if you’re a member, and you want to go to a class, all you have to do is sign up. It’s not extra. It’s part of your membership. And if you try a class and don’t like it, it didn’t cost you anything. You can go try something else.”
Hall also pointed out that the water park had 87,000 visitors since opening, and how that helps bring people to Liberal. The community recreation center could have the same effect.
But in the end, Hall said it was up to the voters to decide.
“You can vote yes, or you can vote no, it’s your choice,” Hall said. “For the first time in 17 years, you have a chance to vote on a project.”