Letter: A ‘referendum’ on the Maple Leaf project?

To the editor:

In the Nov. 14 story in the Brown County Democrat, “Incumbent to serve another term,” commissioner Biddle expressed a belief that her reelection included a referendum on the Maple Performing Arts Center. I believe this is a premature conclusion.

The next two years may provide voters the information needed to assess the popularity of Maple Leaf. The 2020 county elections will also provide a better assessment on the wisdom of this project and its endorsement by the local Republican Party and its candidates. If voters, as commissioner Biddle believes, are supportive of the project, are they also supportive of the process that was used to fast-track this project?

The idea for the Maple Leaf Performing Arts Center was proposed by individuals who, to their credit, admitted that they had a direct financial interest in the project. They determined the type of project (music venue), the scope, size, cost ($12.5 million), feasibility, design and location. Even though the venue is located in one of the most congested areas of the county, these individuals (along with commissioners and all members of the county council) also chose not to contract for a traffic study.

Commissioners and council members, with a timeline provided by the county attorneys, agreed to fast-track this process. They held no public meetings to solicit citizen input on the desirability of this project or to review other options that may have resulted in projects with a higher return on investment and less risk. They did not contract for an independent feasibility study on behalf of the taxpayers, nor did they review the business plan at a meeting that was advertised to the public. The business plan would include projections as to profit and loss, break-even analysis, risk analysis and cash flow requirements.

Further, since the commissioners and members of the council lack the expertise to review such a business plan for a music venue, a contract for an independent financial review would have also been advisable. The only public meetings that the commissioners and council announced to the public regarding this venue were to approve the project, which they did as quickly as possible and with no discussion among themselves regarding any questions or concerns.

The collateral for the $12.5 million loan is revenue from the innkeepers tax, which posed very little risk to the lender. Further, there is a high probability that the county government would provide any additional funding needed. In fact, a newly elected councilman stated that he would not rule out a loan for Maple Leaf. Interesting comment despite a statement by the council president at the time of approval that he would not support any additional funding and would allow for default if this venue is not successful.

At this point — which may surprise many — I do hope this project is successful. I do not accept that the ends (Maple Leaf) justify the means (fast-track process). Criteria for success include not requiring any taxpayer funding or the occurrence of adverse effects that could include traffic-related injuries and fatalities, any delays in providing vital emergency services, and effects that lead to reductions in county revenue and decreases in our tax base.

Tim Clark, Brown County

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