After ten years in existence and $1.8 million in revenue collected, the Western Elmore County Recreation District (WECRD) has yet to come up with a final plan for a community recreation center, much less break ground on the project.
According to records obtained by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, the WECRD had revenues of $441,480.36 in FY2009, and expenses of $116,214.14 (roughly 26% of income). These expenses were incurred, despite the fact there is no rec center, and not even a plan for one. The records show the District has $1.8 million in assets, $1.3 million of which are in cash. Most of this revenue comes from property taxes. When the District was created in 2000, no levy or fee in lieu of taxes was created, but in 2001, a fee of $34.50 per household was imposed. In 2007, it was changed to a property tax levy. In FY2009, residential and business property owners paid $48.37 per $100,000 of taxable property value to the WECRD.
Among FY2009’s expenses, the records show $3,246.43 went for advertising, $18,934.50 for planning, $500 for flood insurance, $800 for irrigation, $8,079 for office space rental, and $1,833.15 for participation in Mountain Home’s Air Force Appreciation Day festivities…despite the fact that there is, as yet, no recreation facility.
The WECRD board of directors also deemed it necessary to spend $725 on portraits of themselves. According to records obtained by the IFF, an invoice dated 6-30-09 shows a Mountain Home portrait studio billed the WECRD $450 for portraits of board members Mollie Marsh, Marsha Sellers, and Jana Borgnohthaus. A few weeks later, another $275 was billed for “extended retouch services” by the same studio.
The three WECRD board members do not receive salaries, but the WECRD does have part-time employees, and hires contractors for other work, such as cleaning and Information Technology services.
So after nine years of paying taxes and fees to the WECRD, what do the taxpayers of Mountain Home have to show for it? $1.3 million in the bank and a 20-acre parcel of land that has been purchased on 18th East, complete with signs promising a recreation facility is coming in the future.
The question of when a facility will be built can’t be answered conclusively, even after 10 years. The WECRD entered into a consulting relationship with the YMCA last year, and the Community Leadership Development Committee was formed. The CLDC is working to determine if it is feasible to continue with the original plan to build the $10 million recreation center complete with a lap-swimming pool, racquetball and basketball courts, and climbing walls. A projected timeline obtained by the IFF predicts the feasibility study will be completed by this October. If it’s determined that a facility is needed, the grand opening isn’t expected to happen until 2014 -- 14 years after the voters of Mountain Home approved the WECRD.
Mountain Home City Councilman Geoff Schroeder was a member of the original blue-ribbon committee created to study the feasibility of building a rec center. He said he still sees the need for recreation facilities of some kind, but he’s grown disillusioned with the process. In his opinion, if the voters had known in 2000 that 10 years later they’d still have no rec center, they never would have voted for it. “I don’t think a time frame was ever given, but it was never stated that it would take this long. We look back and go ‘wow…where did the years go? How did it take this long?’ This is ridiculous!”
So why, after 10 years, does the district own nothing more than a parcel of land? WECRD Treasurer Judy Erwin said it takes a while to save up the money to build a facility. “The Mountain Home community has a very anti-bond mentality; they turn down school bonds, they turn down hospital bonds, they turn down almost any bond that’s floated. The director looked at it and said ‘I don’t think there’s any sense in wasting our money trying to float a bond, when this community is so anti-bond’. So that means we have to save and accumulate our money until we have the money to actually build a facility.”
Based on FY2009’s net revenues of roughly $325,000, it will take another 26.7 years to raise the additional $8.7 million to build the $10 million facility envisioned by the WECRD. This, of course, doesn’t take into consideration how much inflation will drive up the cost of the facility by then.
All this has some members of the community calling for the district to be dissolved. Tracy Lauric is circulating a petition, hoping to get the matter put on this November’s ballot. “I’m doing the petition to dissolve it. I’ve had a lot of people sign that petition, but we need a lot of signatures. We’re going to get 2,000 before we hand it in, just to make sure.”
So what would happen to the money if the WECRD is dissolved? Lauric said it would not go back to the taxpayers. “The money would then convert over to the county, and the county would have to use it for recreation. That’s in the Idaho Code. How they spend it and what they do with it, we’ve got a little bit of a gray area on that. But they have to use it for recreation.”