Brad Arnold, executive director of the Ste. Genevieve County Community Center, reported on the River Rapids Water Park to the Ste. Genevieve County Commission Thursday morning at the courthouse.
“I don’t have exact numbers for this season so far, but I think we are somewhere around 30,000 visitors,” he said. “We opened on May 12, we are a little more than a month now, we have had a few rain-outs so far. This week’s been challenging with the weather. We have to get people out of the pool if it thunders or lightning. We’ve had thunder and no rain for three consecutive days. Going back to what we originally talked about with the water park, our goal was for it to operate and not lose money, and we are, thus far, certainly doing that.”
Presiding Commissioner Garry Nelson addressed concerns being voiced by some residents.
“So you are not losing money?” he asked. “The rumor is out that the water park is going to lose $500,000 this year. You are going to have that much left out of the taxes after you pay the bills.”
Arnold explained how some of the financing of the community center and water park worked.
“The reason for the tax was to cover the original build-out,” he said. “The community center is a little bit of a different animal, because it’s a recreation-based project and there’s no parks and recreation department nowhere that doesn’t lose money. That’s why it’s supplemented with a tax or other funding. The community center operationally hasn’t made money for 20 years. We are in our 21st year, we are not going to make money operationally doing that. That’s why we have a tax to help support what we do. That’s common nationally. Nationally, parks and recreation have a 30% recovery process.”
Nelson added, “The water park was never designed to pay for building the water park with gate receipts. Gate receipts were for day-to-day operations. The water park was designed to be paid for by a half-cent sales tax that the community passed. They knew what they were getting into, we had town hall meetings, the majority of the voters voted it in because they wanted it.”
Arnold noted that a lot of the visitors are from out of town, “I don’t have gate receipts with zip codes to prove this, but 85% of our visitors aren’t from Ste. Genevieve.”
Nelson continued, “I think 400 people a day breaks us even for labor, and chlorine and costs. I’m not calling anything over 400 is a profit, but it can be in the bank for little things that need to be replaced. You’re going to have maintenance after it’s closed.”
Arnold agreed. “Stuff’s going to wear out, it’s not going to last forever. The slides sit out in the open in the sun all year long. They have to be maintained, there’s stuff you have to do to them every year,” he said.
According to Arnold, the numbers this year are down slightly if the days were averaged out compared to last season.
“But, we started those first couple of weeks limiting our number of people in, so that’s going to throw our average off for the year,” he said. “We started late. I’m there everyday, I talk to people and that’s where I get my bulk of information. A lot of the answers I’m getting is that this is the first time coming here, but now that we’ve been here, we’re going to come back. I think part of it is getting out of the city, it’s quieter.”
Nelson stressed that the water park is not losing money. “It’s not going broke, it’s not going to be shut down; it’s here and it’s going to stay.”
Transferring funds in the county’s budget can make for misleading perceptions on how money is spent, something that Arnold concedes.
“We do that every day normally in the courthouse,” he said. “We have three budgets and funds. All our sales tax funnels into one budget. We transfer money from one to the other. At the end of the year, is there a $500,000 expense that goes from one to the other? Yes, but that’s just transferring funds back and forth that we have to document. It’s all of our money, it’s not like we’re pulling money from other parts of the county funds to pay for what we’re doing. When we move money it has to show as an expense, even though it’s not an expense, it’s really just a transfer.”
Nelson compared how the community center complex is funded to how school districts expand their buildings and infrastructure.
“Our revenues are great, everything is paid for on time, we’re not struggling,” he said. “Anybody who thinks ‘we’re $18 million in debt, how are we going to pay for it?’ We knew we were going in debt. We’re just like a school district. School districts don’t save money and buy a new building, they have a tax voted on, then they build a gymnasium. They don’t pay that gymnasium off with basketball games and volleyball games. The community center is the same way.
“My goal is to, in about four to five years, start paying extra on it, get them paid off two to three years ahead of time, without asking businesses for donations.”
Arnold also noted the growth in the area of the center and its contributions to the area in general.
“We came up with a plan that over time has come together quite nicely and has spurred some growth in the area,” he said. “We have another office building that has been built over there, a restaurant has relocated, another restaurant’s been building. Apartments are there.
“Our water park has 125 people, albeit seasonal, that are going to work there all season long. Kids that need jobs, where else were they going to work? Especially given this year. That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in payroll that goes right back into the pockets of people that live right here.”
Nelson also pointed out that local businesses generate sales from many of the water park visitors from out of town who buy fuel and food while in the area.
Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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