Boldt has doubts on tax; Bears supporters express frustration

Baseball proposal’s fans say city, county should back plan to create jobs

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Full email text

The full text of the four emails quoted in this story are available on our blog All Politics is Local.

Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt, who will be the swing vote next week on a proposed countywide admissions tax, said Tuesday he might not support the tax.

Boldt has concerns how the 5 percent admissions tax would impact the Clark County Fair, and wants to hear more information from Justin Kobluk, executive director of the Fairgrounds Site Management Group.

Kobluk earlier wrote in a report that an admissions tax could end up hurting the county if it drives down fair ticket sales. Plus, a tax on concerts at the privately owned Sleep Country Amphitheater could hurt a venue that has fallen so short of estimated revenues that county commissioners have cut lease payments.

Under the proposal put forth by Commissioner Steve Stuart, the county’s fair fund would receive the tax revenues for the first five years, but Boldt said Tuesday if he’s convinced the tax will drive down fair attendance, he won’t support it.

Debate heats up

The public hearing will be 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Clark County Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St.

The tax would add 5 percent to the cost of admission to: movie theaters, the Sleep Country Amphitheater, the Clark County Fair and a proposed stadium at Clark College.

Tax revenues are hoped to fund 40 percent of the proposed $22.7 million stadium.

The county has been working to bring the Class A Yakima Bears to Vancouver.

Commissioner Tom Mielke opposes the tax, so Stuart needs Boldt’s support.

While Boldt expressed doubts about the tax Tuesday, debate over the proposal has been heating up over email.

Ginger Metcalf, who retired this year as executive director of Identity Clark County, emailed the Vancouver City Council and the Board of Clark County Commissioners on Sept. 8.

Identity Clark County supported the team’s proposal: the owners of the Bears, an affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks, would pay 30 percent of capital costs and pay for ongoing maintenance and operations. The tax would be more widely applied — with an exemption for non-profit organizations — and revenues would fund 70 percent.

Commissioners rejected that proposal.

Later, Stuart suggested the public pay 40 percent, as it would be able to use the stadium, and the team pay 30 percent.

That would leave 30 percent to come from private investors. As of Tuesday, none have publicly stepped forward.

If commissioners approve the tax, the Vancouver City Council will have to agree that, for the life of the stadium debt, it will pay a portion of the debt even if a future city council decides to enact a citywide admissions tax for some other purpose. Several councilors have expressed reservations about making such a commitment.

‘Glaring absence’

In Metcalf’s email to councilors and commissioners, she wrote that Identity Clark County has been working on a $250,000 regional marketing strategy, “Land Here, Live Here,” to attract business and jobs.

There’s a “glaring absence of family entertainment opportunities that are part of ‘selling’ a family-friendly region,” she wrote.

Metcalf referenced a study commissioned by the Columbia River Economic Development Council.

The study, done by Paul Dennis and Eric Hovee, found the project would generate $206.5 million over 20 years. That figure includes $34.5 million in construction, $4.6 million annually from professional baseball and $4 million annually from having the stadium used for regional and national tournaments.

Those figures should have officials supporting the proposal, Metcalf wrote.

“What a disappointment to not have the support of the two jurisdictions that will make the final decision on whether baseball comes to Clark County. The private sector is busting its buns and cobbling together scarce private dollars to help bring jobs to this area. Somewhere in this equation there is a huge gap — and I fear that gap lies within the realm of the electeds. The private sector ‘gets’ economic development. What in the world is the matter with the public sector? Get a grip. Bite the bullet. Which of the County’s or City’s plans has created 280 constructions jobs or a return on investment as described in the report below? We’re trying to do our part. You too should be pitching in (pardon the pun) to help us attract the type of businesses and jobs we so desperately need. Or are you too busy strategizing the next election campaign and counting votes?” she wrote.

“When has the County or the City EVER asked for our support and not received it?” she added.

She signed the email, “Ginger Metcalf, a VERY disappointed private citizen who sometimes wonders why in the heck the private sector even tries.”

‘That’s uncalled for’

Councilor Jack Burkman responded, copying everyone on the email thread.

“Ouch!” He repeated her line, “Or are you too busy strategizing the next election campaign and counting votes?”

“That’s uncalled for, Ginger. I expect to hear those type of rude comments from some of our ‘frequent fliers,’ not from you,” Burkman wrote.

“My job as an elected official is to listen to all and represent them to the best of my ability. I’m hearing strong support for the stadium and strong opposition to the use of a new tax to fund it. There is strong pushback to any new tax in this recessionary economy. Equally problematic is a tax on only two businesses (Regal Cinemas and Cinetopia) that is used to benefit a direct competitor, subsidizing that competitor’s low ticket prices,” he wrote.

Burkman wrote that there’s been no evaluation of alternative investments and said the economic analysis was fundamentally flawed.

The so-called economic benefit “is likely to be money ‘shuffled’ from a different business to the stadium,” he wrote.

With respect to public participation, Clark College is really contributing $12 million because it would lease the land for free ($4 million value) and provide parking ($1 million), he wrote.

After capital debt was paid, the stadium would be publicly owned, with the most likely owner being Clark College. Burkman said that’s worth $7 million in property tax exemptions.

The email thread expanded, and baseball supporters weighed in.

Mike Bomar, executive director of the Southwest Washington Contractors Association, questioned Burkman’s figures and reasoning.

“I strongly encourage you to spend our money to make money and not spend money to spend money. If this project does not go through it will be a regional, if not national embarrassment for our community. Now is not the time to be penny-wise and pound foolish. Your approach is a recipe for many more ‘frequent fliers,’” Bomar wrote.

‘Risk in inaction’

Tim Schauer, president of MacKay Sposito Inc., and member of the CREDC board of directors, also responded to Burkman.

“It is obvious by this string of emails that there are strong feelings and a passion for our community’s economic health,” Schauer wrote. “The good news is that we all care, if we didn’t there wouldn’t be such emotion. I don’t think we disagree on where we want to go, but some certainly disagree on what are the good decisions we need to get us there,” he wrote.

“I certainly wish the economic development arena were only so simple such that it would permit us to make direct connections to individual actions and definite future results. But it isn’t. Economic development, like marketing and business development in many of our own businesses is not an event or any one project. It is a process. It takes time. It can be full of anxiety. Success will necessitate bold actions and yes, some risk. But I encourage us to recognize that there is also risk in inaction. There are always unintended consequences to passivity. Future economic development opportunities that we aren’t even aware of yet are probably watching from the sidelines to see how this community grasps this opportunity (or not). Surely they will interpret the outcome, likely without the benefit of any of our explanations. It will be a sound bite. ‘Clark County or Vancouver turns away professional baseball’ or ‘Clark County hits a home run!!’ What do we want the message to be?” Schauer wrote.

Stephanie Rice: http://www.facebook.com/reporterrice; http://www.twitter.com/col_clarkgov; stephanie.rice@columbian.com.