Before You Decide on What Fairfield Should Do with the FACC, READ THIS!

Whether you think the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center is a fiscal fiasco or a fabulous small-town amenity, please read this guest editorial from Mark H. Cohen for the facts of the matter.

When I received the offer to work at a company in Fairfield, it wasn’t an easy decision to accept. My family was well established in Denver, CO. We had a kid in college in CO and two in the public school system. We’d never heard of Fairfield nor had we ever considered moving to the Midwest.

So I got on the Internet and found every detail about Fairfield that I could gather. And I discovered what so many of you already know. Fairfield is an amazing little gem in SE Iowa. Good schools, a diverse community and many of the amenities that people like me – who come to Fairfield to work and raise kids – seek when making a life-changing move.

Of the many amenities in Fairfield, one that stood out to us is the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center, which opened to the public just as we moved here.

It’s no secret that our town (can I call it that after 2 years?) is torn about the Center and its future. A great group of people, led by Suzan Kessel and Sally Neff-Denny, conceived of it and led a 10 year effort to complete it. A long road that led to where we are today…

The road to completion was not perfect. Larger than life promises were made that shouldn’t have been, as they could never have been kept. Cost-overruns saddled the Center with a debt burden that has only grown. Ticket prices were high and well-balanced entertainment options were few. And there was little consideration of additional avenues of generating income such as meetings and conferences.

Now we’ve reached a point that I don’t think anyone – the founders or the citizens – expected or wanted. One where in order to enable the Center to continue to contribute to the community, it needs more of the community’s help. More specifically, it needs the City of Fairfield’s help.

I understand that you are likely on one side of this issue. You probably love or oppose it. If you love it, the best thing you can do to help the Center survive is to spread the good word, particularly to those who oppose it. If you oppose it, all I can ask you to do is to please, acquaint yourself with the facts – not just what may amount to be misconceptions.

For example, if the City becomes a partner in the Center, there is a perception that taxes will go up. This is untrue. Here is how that transaction will work. The city will borrow the $650,000 requested by the Center through sale of bonds. They will pay that debt back by pledging city local option sales tax funds –  simply a redirection of existing tax revenue. The local option sales tax adds a few hundred thousand dollars to the city coffers. Of that, approx 75% goes to roads and sewers. 25% that is left is earmarked for “community betterment.”  Of THAT 25%, half is set-aside for sort of a rainy day fund, and half of THAT is what organizations like the FACC can request from the city.  Are you with me so far?

Now back to how the city will fund this via the existing, local option sales tax. Preliminary calculations (by Piper Jaffray, an investment bank) have indicated that if the city dedicates approx. $100,000 per year for 9 years (9th year will be less), the debt will be retired. $100,000 is approximately one-half of the “community betterment” part of city local option sales tax revenues. So, of the 25% community betterment piece of the local option pie, the city would spend about half of it on civic center debt for about 9 years. Of course if local option tax revenues continue to increase, the city can elect to pay the debt off early. The other half of that revenue would continue to be used to help plug holes in the city’s general fund budget (e.g., police car) and help fund other worthy community non-profit “quality of life” projects (e.g., little league). And the fact of the matter is this, Community groups are never guaranteed these funds each year – they must be applied for and are only awarded occasionally.

Just as I did my research before I chose to live in Fairfield, I encourage you to do yours before you make up your mind to support – or oppose – the continued investment in this amazing community asset.

To that end, there are many more facts contained on the website Please check it out, tell your friends about it, and if you feel the need, get on there and stir up the debate!

Be it from a quality of life or revenue perspective, I for one, believe that supporting the recovery of the Center is far preferable to the alternative. That is why I have personally donated and volunteered to serve on the Center’s board of directors.

What do you think?