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MONEY IS MAIN BARRIER TO CLEARFIELD REC CENTER

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Officials and residents don't doubt that a recreation center could benefit the city, but they're not so sure how to pay for it.

The city has proposed to build and finance, through a bond, a nearly $6.5 million facility that would include a weight room, racquetball courts, aerobics room, two gyms, lockers, offices, non-commercial kitchen, nursery, golf simulators, indoor batting cages and swimming pool. The facility would be built next to Fisher Park, replacing an old pool there.Recreation director Tracy Heun said a phone survey conducted a couple of years ago revealed 80 percent of the 600 residents questioned were interested in the center. When these residents were asked if they were willing to pay additional tax dollars for it, "the majority said `yes,' " she said.

According to a report listing the survey results, on average, Clearfield residents said they were willing to pay approximately $7 per year for a recreation center.

Still, the city decided to let voters make the ultimate decision with a bond election to be held in November. The tax increase has not yet been determined, according to City Manager Jack Bippes, because a changing market could alter the cost estimate. By September, he said, the city will compute the tax increase and outline this figure, along with other information about the center, in a pamphlet for residents.

But resident Curtis Oda doesn't want the proposal to advance past the pamphlet pages.

It's not that Oda outright opposes a recreation center, he just doesn't want the city to operate it. "It's a form of socialism," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, free enterprise is the way to go."

For one, Oda doesn't think residents should have to pay membership fees to use the center, on top of their taxes to build it, as has been proposed. Heun said those fees will be set in the near future.

Oda also believes that a privately owned recreation center would generate more tax revenue than would one owned by the city. Furthermore, he said he thinks the city may assume too much power to continually raise taxes if the center loses money.

"The user fees and memberships would not be that much different between this facility and a private club, except for the fact that if this one doesn't make it on its own, they've got a bottomless pit," he said. "All they've got to do is excise taxes, and they've got a way to cover it."

Yet Bippes said the city's intent in building the center is to provide a service to its residents, not necessarily to create a booming business. He also spoke of the perceived merits of a recreation center: giving youths an outlet so they don't get involved with gangs and bettering the health of senior citizens and the rest of the community. With the gang problem in particular, Bippes said a center could possibly defray costs of additional law enforcement.

"It's tough to measure the benefits (financially)," he said, "but they are there."

Heun also said the recreation department will focus on family oriented activities for the center, if it is built.

Oda still doesn't think that providing a haven for youths is a good enough reason for the city - not private enterprise - to operate a center.

"You're not going to change the kids just by taking them over there," he said. "And if the gangs are going to be there, we're certainly not going to be there."

The city has allocated about $40,000 from this year's budget for the center, primarily for an architect to draw updated plans and to print the pamphlets. Even if the bond election doesn't pass, Bippes said this money won't be wasted, because the city will have the plans to use in the future.