Fuji Park supporters would rather fight than switch

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I don't want to live in a town where residents aren't willing to fight for a park. That's what residents interested in a quality town are supposed to do.

So it bothers me to hear people refer to the Save Fuji Park group as a bunch of tree-hugging elitists screwing up the city's financial future.

For the record, I'm not a big Fuji Park user. I've been there a few times for special events and don't recall having a bad experience beyond the chocolate chip cookie that got stuck in my tooth. I'm not a big user of the cemetery, either, but that doesn't mean I want a big-box store there.

I believe in a quality community, something city officials pounded into my head during the Quality of Life (Question 18) initiative drive that was eventually passed by voters four years ago. During that quarter-cent tax hike campaign, city officials pleaded for us to preserve open space for our children's children, promising to use the money to buy open space and to fix up some of the city's parks, including Fuji.

Page 47 of the sample ballot (what we rely on to make informed decisions) distributed during the Quality of Life vote read: "The projects presently anticipated to be developed first are (among others): Fuji Park: renovate irrigation, add group picnic and exhibit areas, restrooms and parking."

While they now say they never really "promised" where the money would be used, they sure as hell implied that 20-percent of the $1.5 million per year the tax generated would be used to fix existing parks. Over the past three years, that comes to roughly $900,000 and I haven't seen evidence that much, if any, of that money has gone toward upgrading Fuji Park and Fairgrounds. And that money was supposed to "supplement, but not replace" current park maintenance funds, according to the sample ballot.

So today, even though we live in a desert, we pay extra for open space. In fact, we pay extra and then some for open space, if the $1 million recent purchase of 61 acres by the city is any indication. The guy who sold the 61 acres paid just $450,000 for them three years earlier. If the city wants to enter the real estate business, it's got to learn to negotiate better on behalf of our "children's children."

Suddenly the city finds itself with the prospect of losing Wal-Mart to Douglas County and with it lots of sales tax revenues needed to run City Hall.

City officials hosted three "open houses" last week seeking "ideas, feedback, thoughts and concerns" regarding a proposal to relocate Fuji Park. That's what "city staff" has recommended supervisors do in order to preserve our economic livelihood. At least according to a full page advertisement the city published in this newspaper looking for those "ideas, feedback, thoughts and concerns."

They must not be listening to the 2,000 or so people who have already signed a petition asking the city leave Fuji Park alone. A couple of supervisors have implied that those 2,000 or so people represent a vocal minority and that most of Carson City's residents don't really care.

In its advertisement, the city indicated there could be a compromise that would make everyone a "winner."

"City staff will recommend to the Carson City Board of Supervisors in August (Aug. 2) that the Fairgrounds be relocated and a park setting preserved," read the advertisement. Under the sub-heading of "Why?," the ad goes on to state that the existing facilities are limited and that the space needed for future facilities is inadequate.

It fails to explain that three proposed relocation sites for Fuji Park were shot down at the Parks and Recreation Committee meetings. Nor does it indicate where that new "space" will come from. The only location that would seem to make most users happy would be the old Stewart Indian School site that is owned by the state.

The city's advertisement goes on to say that a "better fairgrounds facility at a different location can be developed with the proceeds from the Costco land sale together with the sale of the fairgrounds site."

On the other hand, the $2.5 million the city got for the Costco land could be used to improve the existing fairgrounds. A lot of improvements could be done with that kind of money. Especially when complemented by some of the Open Space money that allegedly was supposed to go to improve the parks.

Finally, the city's advertisement gets to the nut of the issue: "Wal-Mart's move to Douglas County will cost Carson City $1 million in sales tax revenue and threatens to force increases in property taxes."

How's that for a scare tactic? Throw in the dreaded "T" word and get them shaking in their tax-paying boots.

For starters, the city would need to show property owners that every sales tax dime it currently receives is being used prudently and that the city budget is as lean as it can possibly be. In my experience, government has been hard-pressed to do that and before they raise my taxes they'd better be eliminating a few jobs and ramping up the belt a few notches. That's what companies do when revenues fall short. Check out the 6 O'Clock News at the number of layoffs lately. Why is government immune to economic slowdown? Give me three days and an accountant and I'll find $1 million in cuts in the city budget by making the same difficult decisions businesses must make today.

And we're still not certain Wal-Mart will be leaving Carson City. There's been talk of Wal-Mart opening a store on Highway 50 East.

According to one city consultant, unless Wal-Mart were to move to the Fuji Park location, which is not going to happen, no other retailer (except Home Depot and they've already got a home) comes close to generating the sales tax revenues that Wal-Mart can.

Others who might be interested in moving to a Fuji Park location would probably, at best, generate less than half of the sales tax revenues lost from Wal-Mart's departure. And an anticipated loss of $1 million in sales tax revenues would suggest that the city doesn't expect to find another tenant for the soon-to-be-empty Wal-Mart box store. Or for the empty box store formerly occupied by Supply One.

We seem to be creating a box-store boneyard, which is not the kind of "Open Space" the taxpayers envisioned.

In the end, though, it seems the city has already made its mind up and is pressing not so much for community "feedback" as it is buy-in. "We want to hear what you have to say, so long as you agree with our position."

But this should come as no surprise to anyone. The first shoe fell with the sale of the Costco land. I would be shocked if supervisors on Thursday (6 p.m. at the Community Center under the agenda heading of "Discussion and possible action to direct staff to prepare a resolution for the sale and development of a portion of the Fairgrounds/Fuji Park") did anything but follow "staff's" advice to relocate the fairgrounds. From their comments on the city-sponsored television "news" program, supervisors seem pretty determined to sell at least a chunk of Fuji Park.

The board may even decide to ask voters what they think ought to be done, probably putting a question together that reads something like: "Would You Be Willing To Save Fuji Park and Have Your Taxes Raised?"

That's like asking kids if they'd be willing to eat fish heads in order to get candy.

And when the next "box store" packs up and leaves town perhaps we'll sell off another park. I'll bet the city could get some big bucks for Mills Park. In fact, City Hall itself would make for some great retail space downtown. How about selling it and "relocating" city officials?

Ultimately supervisors will do what they think is best for its citizens and those citizens will let them know, one way or the other, if that decision was the correct one. Maybe the state will bail them out by allowing the city to move the fairgrounds to the old Stewart Indian School site.

Either way, it's great to see a community willing to fight for a park. Anything less would be uncivilized.

Jeff Ackerman is publisher and editor of the Nevada Appeal.


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