News-Miner opinion: The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly in a 5-4 vote adopted a new business model for the John A. Carlson Community Center that will cost borough taxpayers money and add a half-dozen workers to the borough payroll, even as services elsewhere are being reduced.
There is ample reason to be skeptical of the idea to expand services at the Interior’s largest indoor arena to include sports, an indoor play area, movie nights, food truck rallies, birthday parties and craft classes. The center often sits idle, even before the pandemic curtailed operations.
“The Carlson Center has never covered its own costs, and I don’t see any time in the foreseeable future where it would cover its own costs,” Borough Mayor Bryce Ward told the Assembly before the vote.
The expansion of services offered by the 4,595-seat, multi-purpose arena to make it more accessible and useful, and putting it under borough management, would cost the borough an additional $150,000-$200,000. Borough taxpayers already subsidize the center’s operation with $500,000 annually and a feasibility study last year of the plan found 60% of the respondents do not want to pay more property taxes.
The current contract for managing the 32-year-old center is set to expire June 30. Of late, the facility has been used for Covid-19 response.
A persistent complaint about the center is that it costs too much to operate; that it requires constant financial life support. Yet the new plan, despite expanding use, would add costs. It makes no sense.
If the Assembly is unhappy with the center’s operation and wants to expand its services in the hope of recouping costs it should either rejigger its current contract to stipulate increased services and opportunities or find another contractor to run the facility. If officials want more access, more opportunities, write it into a contract with an experienced management company, but they should not try to run it themselves.
If there is a given in all this, it is that government should not run a business. That has been proved so many times it now is axiomatic.
The Assembly has scheduled a public hearing on the new plan. A final vote is expected May 13.