Recently, I delivered public comments at a Chesterfield City Council meeting concerning a proposal to extend and redirect a special transportation tax to fund 31% of the costs of a new ice complex that would be privately owned. Members of the council weren’t entirely receptive to my comments, and one is left to wonder why. Still, the 100 or so hockey players and their parents and coaches, in discussion after the meeting, let me know they appreciated my input and the dialogue. The points below paraphrase the two main arguments made in favor of the subsidy and how I did/would respond to them.
1.Chesterfield is a hockey town, so investing in an ice facility makes sense. If the community wants a facility, what’s so wrong with the community helping to finance it?
Response: The community has no say in this. The overwhelming majority of Chesterfield residents would not be allowed to vote on whether to subsidize the new arena. Only voters in some 130 households within a special taxing district—less than 1 percent of households in Chesterfield—will get to vote on the proposal. But if Chesterfield is so enamored of hockey, why not let all residents vote? On the other hand, if hockey fever is confined to those 130 households, why should the rest of Chesterfield’s residents (and anyone else who shops in the Chesterfield Valley retail area, where the tax is levied) be asked to subsidize the proposed facility?
2.The Hardee’s Ice Arena in Chesterfield brings in a lot of business for the community. If we don’t replace it with a new facility, the economy could take a hit. Wouldn’t the positive economic impact of a new facility make a $7 million subsidy worthwhile?
Response: While the Hardee’s Ice Arena is closing, its place is being taken by a high-end golfing entertainment facility, which should also generate economic activity for the community. So the Chesterfield economy may not take a hit at all with the closure of the Hardee’s Ice Arena. More importantly, if an ice facility is such a boon for Chesterfield businesses, why don’t they become investors in the project? Why should families buying groceries at Walmart have to pay extra to create demand for businesses they may never patronize? Moreover, is this really the kind of argument proponents of the subsidy want to make? Wouldn’t the same “logic” apply to other projects as well? Would the hockey community in Chesterfield be OK with subsidizing, say, a “knitting hall of fame” if it would generate economic activity?
Financing a privately-owned ice facility through a tax increase that affects anyone who shops in the valley retail area—regardless of their interest in skating or hockey—amounts to asking an entire community to help pay for the recreational activity of a small group of people. Chesterfield City Council members should keep that simple truth in mind, “hockey town” or not.