Tourism tax revenues and plans for a mini-coliseum

While thumbing through some of our bound copies of the newspaper, I came upon an article that appeared in the June 1, 2005 issue of The New Albany Gazette. The headline reads: “City diverts $1 million towards mini-coliseum.”

With my interest in the city’s fiscal affairs, I immediately began to read the story and, what to my surprise, I discovered that a previous Board of Aldermen, the one prior to the one we have now, invested $1 million into a certificate of deposit, earmarked for the specific use in the construction of a mini-coliseum for New Albany, as well as the maintenance and other costs pertaining to the facility. The proposed mini-coliseum would seat three to five thousand people to complement the tourism appeal of the Sports Complex.

Not only did they put aside the million dollars, they went further and allocated 25 percent of the City’s tourism tax revenues toward the future cost that would be created by the coliseum.

They were talking about a lot of money then and it is still a lot of money now. The next, obvious question is: “Is the certificate of deposit still in the bank?” “Are the mini-coliseum plans still on the table?” “Where are the funds representing the 25 percent allocation of the tourism tax revenues going?” and, “Does anyone know what’s going on?”

Actually, these are just a few questions about this issue that could be raised by the non-incumbents for the offices of mayor and aldermen in all wards and at-large. We might assume those now in office know the answers, but then again, we might be incorrect once again.

In September, 2005, the Mayor and the Board of Aldermen, the Board and Mayor we have now, revisited the mini-coliseum project and amended the  previous action of raking off 25 percent of the tourism tax revenues down to only 20 percent, citing the need to insure that all programs funded by the city’s tourism tax revenues were adequately funded. Prior to approving the 2006 city budget, the Board of Aldermen voted unanimously not only to cut the percentage allocated to the mini-coliseum project, but to wait until the end of each year to remove that 20 percent and place it into an earmarked account.

To answer the first question that comes to mind, “Is the certificate of deposit still in the bank?” My information is that it is and the interest paid is being sent to our city clerk who makes sure it is absorbed into the city’s general operating fund. Whether that was the original intention of the Board’s decision to establish the certificate of deposit is unknown, that’s just what I’m told is happening.

The next question of, “Where are the funds representing the 25 percent (now 20 percent by Board of Aldermen amendment) of the city’s tourism tax revenues actually going and are they still in the earmarked account in the bank.?” That answer would have to come from our Board of Aldermen, our Mayor or our City Clerk or all of them.

It was estimated at that Board of Aldermen’s meeting in September, 2005 that based on that year’s projection of tourism tax revenue of $420,350, that $89,070 would be placed into the “coliseum fund.” Assuming that the tourism tax revenues have not changed each year (and they have, in some years, dramatically), over the past four years, that would mean  the coliseum fund, earmarked account would have a balance today of $356,280. Obviously, there’s more when you figure the tourism tax increased revenue each year. So, what happens to the interest on that money and can the funds be used for anything else?

The final two questions, “Are the mini-coliseum plans still on the table?’, and “Does anyone know what’s going on?” remain unanswered.

If the proper and legal procedures of public meetings have been followed and anything has changed between the September, 2005 meeting and today, the citizens would already know the answer to all the mini-coliseum questions. Since it appears the general public has no idea of the status of coliseum plans or the condition of the funds already allocated for that purpose, we must assume everything is the same. However, this mayor, this Board of Aldermen have been known to make decisions in closed session or in improper meeting arrangements and have a trademark reputation for not being open with the citizens of New Albany.

Those running for these offices should be interested, along with the taxpayers, in the answers forthcoming to the mini-coliseum project status and tourism tax revenue allocated to it.