North Platte Recreation Center
By a narrow 4-3 vote, the city council decided Tuesday not to contribute to a thorough study of North Platte’s recreational facilities.
A working group of officials wanted to use $51,500 from the city’s quality growth funds (for economic development) to help pay for a consultant to study the city’s current and future needs.
Four other community groups pledged $33,500 for the study. An quality growth advisory group recommended the $51,500 contribution.
The council's debate was long and intense.
Proponent David Pederson, president of the board of Great Plains Regional Medical Center, said the study would not just be a city project, but a wider community project.
“We need to attract more people and business to North Platte,” he said. “This is really a business decision."
Lisa Burke of the Convention and Visitors Bureau said the study would give the city an idea of “what we have and what we need.” And, she said it would give the council a chance to make studied decisions about health and wellness projects.
Burke said additional recreation and fitness facilities would be good for tourism and would also attract businesses and people to North Platte.
Councilman Tim Barrett was the first to raise objections.
Barrett suggested asking the citizens of North Platte what they want, and he pointed out all the recreation facilities already in town.
“There are nine fitness businesses in North Platte, not counting the city recreation center, not to mention the parks, ball fields, tennis courts, and so forth,” he said.
Barrett also said facilities don’t motivate people.
"You can throw money at expensive facilities for fitness but that's not going to get people away from their video games, TV sets and such to use them,” he said.
Barrett also didn’t think it would be a proper use of quality growth funds.
The quality growth fund is derived from a slice of city sales tax money that slowly and steadily accumulates. The money is earmarked for economic development, or “quality growth.”
North Platte’s fund currently contains $2.7 million and is on track to surpass $3 million by year’s end, officials have said.
Councilman Martin Steinbeck asked if the study would be truly objective or end up recommending banning large soft drinks.
Pederson replied and said the study would not commit the city to anything; it would find out what is needed and what could be supported.
Councilman Jim Carman said the study seems unnecessary and would be an unwise use of tax money. He said wellness and fitness should not be a function of government.
“It's a personal responsibility,” he said.
“We would be sending a bunch of money to a company out-of-state for this study, and it is tax money,” he said. “I don't differentiate between tax dollars, no matter what fund they come from. We should care about tax dollars and I care about them all."
Carman said the city rec center is more than adequate to serve the needs of the community.
“I love that facility and go there every day,” he said. “Many times there is the pool without a ripple on it. There may be one or two people shooting hoops and maybe one or two in the weight room."
Carman also said some people may say that the rec center is past its lifespan, “but there isn't anything in that building that cannot be fixed if it breaks.”
“We need to pay down debt, which we are progressing on, and I think we are doing pretty darn good with the fitness facilities we have,” he said.
When the vote was taken, Carman, Larry Campbell, Barrett and Brook Baker voted no. Andrew Lee, Steinbeck and Glenn Petersen voted yes.
Michelle McNea was absent.
Thompson takes over
In other action, the council unanimously appointed Dennis Thompson as interim fire chief, effective immediately.
Veteran Fire Chief Paul Pederson has retired.
This report was updated March 22 with more on the council debate, which was printed in the Bulletin's print edition. Watch this website for more info.