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EDITORIALS ELSEWHERE How much red ink is enough for quality-of life?


How much red ink is enough for quality-of life?

In the private sector, a business can survive only so long when its expenses exceed revenues. After a period of only red ink, the operation goes out of business.

That’s not the case in the public sector, better known as government. It has plenty — most, actually — of programs, departments and facilities where revenues don’t come close to matching expenses. Red ink is common.

So, what is the solution? Shut down the public-sector offerings that don’t carry their weight? Obviously not. At least not all of them. We are not about to close the police department. We aren’t going to shutter the city’s fire stations. We aren’t going to stop operating the community’s leading site for literature and information, the public library. We still expect to have parks, and we expect the grass there to be mowed.

There are public safety, public convenience and quality-of-life considerations driving the decisions to keep providing certain operations and services (and subsidizing them with tax dollars).

There are other facilities and programs, however, where the decision is not as clear-cut. How much red ink is acceptable when it comes to marinas, certain recreation programs and facilities (such as campgrounds and golf courses), and, to use a current example in Dubuque, civic centers?

As TH Media reported last week, Five Flags Civic Center continues to operate at a deficit. It’s been losing some money virtually since the day it opened nearly four decades ago. A deficit should not be a surprise, as the venue has always been a quality-of-life amenity and one that provides a lift to the local business community, especially restaurants, bars and hotels.

However, how much red ink is too much?

Several years ago, the taxpayer-subsidized deficit at Five Flags Civic Center jumped, and it has been running above $800,000 annually since. At what point do taxpayers and city officials say enough is enough and it’s time to move on?

We might not be at that point — yet. But we’re getting close. After all, what else could the city do — or taxpayers save — with more than three-quarters of a million bucks every year?

Before the city of Dubuque does anything along the lines of closing the civic center, it will hire a consultant to conduct a building and market evaluation. That study will cost up to $50,000.

Meanwhile, Five Flags soon will have a new general manager, H.R. Cook, who succeeds the retiring Joyce White and is itching to look at our challenges with a fresh set of eyes. Cook and White work for SMG Worldwide Entertainment and Convention Venue Management, with which the city contracts to run Five Flags.

Expect the city to pay the consultant to tell us a few things White and others have been saying for years: The place needs more seats, more space and more amenities to make it a more viable venue again.

That, obviously, means more money. Is renovating Five Flags a good investment for the future, or is it throwing good money after bad? That is where the consulting firm will earn its fee, and that’s why a study is a wise decision.

As we stated in an editorial 16 months ago, don’t expect Five Flags Civic Center to be transformed to the extent that it operates in the black. However, before this community throws in the towel on the facility, it should identify and seek opportunities that will make the place a desirable destination for community members and visitors — and a much smaller financial burden on taxpayers.

— The Dubuque Telegraph Herald. Dec. 10

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