Cedar City Council reevaluates RAP tax funded program’s needs

CEDAR CITY – The Cedar City Council Chambers were buzzing with heated discussion Wednesday night about whether or not to set aside 10 percent of each year’s future RAP tax revenue toward maintaining the infrastructure of preexisting city-owned facilities and those built with grants from the fund. The discussion took place during a public hearing held to address the matter.

Proposed withholding of RAP tax revenue for capital improvements, deferred maintenance

When the Recreation, Arts and Parks tax was established in Cedar City there was no consideration for the eventual deterioration of funded projects that would remain in the city’s domain, Councilman Paul Cozzens said. Until now, upkeep costs have been taken from the general fund and the budget is no longer in a position to keep funding capital improvements.

With the recent renewal of the tax, Cozzens said, it has become imperative to address the issue before it gets any further out of hand.

The money proposed to be set aside would not cover operational or day-to-day expenses. Rather, it would be available for any type of major upkeep expense required to maintain a facility that would typically be eligible for RAP tax funding – even if the facility had not been built with RAP tax revenue.

For instance, the Heritage Center Theater was not built using RAP tax grant funding. However, many of the arts programs funded by the 0.10 percent tax are showcased within the city-owned theater, and it is in need of significant maintenance soon.

The city has already set precedent for including such capital improvements, City Manager Rick Holman said during a PowerPoint presentation. It has used the RAP tax revenue to upgrade and maintain infrastructure for both Main Street Park and Canyon Park. Neither park was built with RAP tax monies, but both have benefited from the cash flow in recent years.

Other possible recipients of maintenance funding could include trail maintenance, Park Discovery, and a central irrigation control system for Cedar City parks.

Many spoke to the council with passionate conviction about their views on both the RAP tax and the issue at hand. While some spoke out against the tax completely, others who favor the tax offered many reasons why they were either for or against the 10 percent withholding from the RAP tax revenue.

Arts concerns

Cedar City Arts Council Board Member Sara Penny reminded the council that she was an influential player in the building of the Heritage Center Theater. She also reminded the council of commitments made by their predecessors.

“My name is Sara Penny and I named the Heritage Center,” she said. “It was supposed to be the Eccles Center within two months, (but) they withdrew the proposal and we never followed through. Why is there not a name on that building?”

Naming rights for the building start at $1 million, Penny said. That money would go a long way to helping replace the carpet that is currently falling into disrepair.

When the theater was built in 2002, she said, the mayor promised to convene a committee to oversee grant writing,and fundraising that would cover the maintenance expenses the venue would have. The committee has never been formed, Penny said, and she wants to know why.

Councilman Don Marchant thanked Penny for the reminder and for offering not just opinion but possible solutions to help with the growing problem.

Since the arts already receive such a small portion of the RAP tax money with the parks and recreational portions so closely aligned, Penny asked the council to reconsider.

There were many in the chamber, including Cedar City Arts Council President Deborah Snider, whose opinions echoed Penny’s fear of losing even the smallest amount of possible funding for arts programs.

The arts council recently looked into the number of unique venues in the community that provide art opportunities, Snider said, and found that there are at least 50. That would mean that there are 50 separate eligible organizations who vie for a tiny piece of the one-third-sized slice of the RAP tax pie.

“I would love to see the 10 percent not taken out of especially the arts side,” she said, “because a lot of these organizations need these funds so desperately and they’re doing great work.”

Snider highlighted the results of an economic impact study that the arts council did two years ago, showing that arts alone bring over $40 million dollars in revenue every year into the Cedar City community.

Council members said they can understand the feeling of those in the arts community that the 10 percent proposal at hand would take away from grant applicants in the future. But, they said, with the trending economic upturn, the blow will be softened because more money will be available than in recent years.

This did not sit well with Jill Shuler, Utah Shakespeare Festival development director, who said the quality of life in Cedar City rests on the foundation of cultural growth and endeavors in the arts. Any blow to possible program funding is a blow too big for the arts to take, she said, rousing those in the room to applause by the time she was done at the podium. She said:

What we get back (from the arts) far outweighs what the dollars and cents are at the bottom of the (budget) sheet. I just can’t imagine what Cedar City would be like without its educational institutions – specifically, the university without its cultural institutions – and I am not just talking Shakespeare but all of our cultural opportunities across the board … now I don’t mean to disparage any other city, but we’d be Filmore, a gas stop, and we are not a gas stop, we are a vital community that has heart ….

Parks and recreation concerns

Many who stood to speak in support of the 10 percent withholding from the RAP tax revenue represented programs that receive RAP tax funding from the parks and recreation portion of the pool.

One man who spoke said he is concerned that if the proposal passes, they would not be able to receive capital improvement funds if other groups were awarded funds that totaled the 10 percent set aside for this purpose. He said that the money has been an integral part of important updates that would not have been achievable without RAP tax money.

At the end of the meeting it was decided that council would draft an ordinance and present it for a vote. A date has not yet been set for when the item will be on the city’s agenda.

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