By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS
The residents of Goshen will have a big decision to make this coming May.
After a nearly three-hour deliberation, Goshen City Council members Tuesday voted four-to-three in favor of sending a controversial $27.6 million Goshen Community Center project to a special referendum in May.
Council members voting in favor of sending the project to a referendum were Democrats Julia Gautsche, Jeremy Stutsman, Everett Thomas and Republican and council newcomer Brett Weddell. Voting in opposition were Republicans Edward Ahlersmeyer, Jim McKee and Dixie Robinson.
Tuesday’s vote dealt with the council’s portion of a two-part proposal, the second part being a $7 million Goshen Community Schools rehabilitation project that is scheduled to go through a similar preliminary determination hearing at the school board’s Jan. 28 meeting. Combined, the two projects come to approximately $35.6 million.
Should the school board members vote to send their portion of the proposal to a referendum as well, the two-part referendum will then go to Goshen voters, asking for the taxpayers to take on a 20-year bond issue to finance the projects.
Essentially the referendum will involve two separate questions: do voters want to use their tax dollars to support the funding of the Goshen Community Center, and do voters want to use their tax dollars to support the funding of the proposed GCS rehabilitation project. Voters located within the city limits will be able to vote on the community center question, while voters located within the GCS school district will be able to vote on the school question. Voters located both within the city and within the school district will be able to vote on both questions.
According to the most recent project plans, the bulk of the community center project will involve the construction of a $27.6 million facility located at the former city garage property on the millrace’s west side. The center would include an aquatic center with a wellness and therapy pool; a recreation pool and a competition pool; a gymnasium, a fitness center with an indoor track and meeting rooms.
In addition, the GCS rehabilitation project would involve approximately $7 million in renovations and construction at Goshen High School and Goshen Middle School, which would reclaim current spaces and add on to fitness areas. Through the school renovations, the pool areas of both schools would be converted to new spaces to help alleviate space problems in music programs and add additional workout and fitness spaces. The schools will then utilize the pool facilities at the new community center for all of their pool-related recreational and sports needs.
Tuesday’s decision was not an easy one for the council, however, with strong opinions being voiced both in favor and opposition to sending the projects to a referendum.
Following a five-minute presentation by community center project manager Bruce Stahly, the floor was opened up for members of the community to voice their comments or concerns related to the project.
Among the first to speak was Goshen resident Theresa Sailor, who said she has a family with young children who love to swim, and would like to see a community-oriented facility in Goshen where she could take her children and feel comfortable.
“We would really like as a family and as a member of the Goshen swimming program the opportunity to vote and the referendum to go forward so we can decide on our own,” Sailor said.
Goshen resident John Huber was among those voicing opposition to sending the project to a referendum, sharing his concern that public services should not be paid for by taxpayer money.
“I seriously object to taxpayer money paying for public services,” Huber said. “If the YMCA couldn’t make a go at it, what makes us think we can make a go of it? The City Council was elected for a reason, to do the business, not to send it back to the public. Do your job.”
Councilman McKee shared his concerns.
“Personally, I think that if the project takes place, it will no doubt put some tax paying businesses out of business,” McKee said. “That concerns me.”
After closing public comment on the issue, council members debated whether or not it would be more feasible to postpone the vote to allow the council and community more time to research the proposed project, deny it outright, or allow it to go to a referendum. In the end, the vote to allow it to go to referendum won out.
Following the successful vote, council members then encouraged all those in attendance and in the community to seek out more information on the proposed plan in the months leading up to the May referendum. Doing so, they said, will help to ensure they can make an educated and informed decision when the time comes to cast their vote.
“Thank you to everyone who came,” Gautsche said of those in attendance. “It was very helpful and I’ve learned a lot.”