Proponents of the proposed fieldhouse addition to the Soldotna Regional Sports Center gave their pitch to the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Wednesday. Voters in the city will be asked in a special election next month whether to approve $10 million in general obligation bonds to pay for the 42,000 square foot facility.
Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen says the city’s low debt, combined with relatively low interest rates, make this a better move than saving for a potentially more expensive project down the road. In addition, with drastic cuts to capital spending from the state, local communities will be spending more on basic infrastructure, leaving bonds as an alternative to finance big projects.
“The city has about $8.25 million that’s unassigned and available for spending in our general fund. That (money) is going to be really important for us as a community moving forward to keep up with maintenance on our existing facilities and infrastructure. Last year, our capital budget- a lot of it went to streets, some of it went to parks- was about $900,000. So, if we want to continue building in that range (of) $1 to $1.5 million a year for capital, then those reserves are really important. As well as dealing with unforeseen things, which come up. In the past, we could call our legislators and they’d fit it in somewhere. That’s not going to be our reality moving forward.”
An expansion of some sort at the sports center has been on and off the table for nearly two decades. But a lot of work has gone into it over the past few years, including the city setting aside $3 million for matching funds for any grants that might pop up.
The mechanism for paying the bonds back would be a bump in sales tax of a half a percent to 3.5 percent. That’s an extra $1.50 on a $300 transaction, and it would be capped at $2.50. If voters approve the bond measure, the sales tax increase would sunset in ten years when the debt is payed off. Queen says this puts the burden on a bigger slice of the peninsula’s population that might use the fieldhouse.
“We think the likely users of this facility are not just city residents, just like (the sports center); but anyone in the central peninsula who might come to a trade show, who might come and bring your kids for hockey or come to an event, have a fundraiser here. Those are the people who would pay for part of the facility through a sales tax. So if you’re likely to come to Soldotna to shop, maybe you work here, I think you’re a likely person who might be a user of this facility.”
Design work on the fieldhouse is 95% complete according to the city. It would be able to host a variety of sports like basketball, hockey and soccer along with having an elevated running track. Total cost is estimated to be around $11 million. Queen is quick to point out that it will not probably ever pay for itself with user fees. But whether upkeep and staffing is something the city wants to pay for in perpetuity is another question voters will answer at the special election on Tuesday, March 5th.