"As concerned citizens, we are simply asking the council to approve a motion that our group be given 45 days to explore other options. We're not saying - again - don't do anything, obviously something has to be done, but give us 45 days to report back to you in a public hearing format. Listen to our options. You still have the final decision. We think this is a reasonable request in light of the fact that the council and Emmetsburg Municipal Utilities combined is spending over a million dollars of the peoples' money to build the project." Pete Hamilton
Emmetsburg resident Pete Hamilton closed his remarks to Emmetsburg City Council with that statement. He and over 25 Emmetsburg residents came to express their concerns about building the proposed community center.
"We are a group of people who are concerned about the expenses going forward on the project that has been unfolding over the last several years," Hamilton said. "I'm not shooting off the hip here. I've spoken to folks who are for this project as proposed. I spent two hours with Steve Heldt (community developer) going through the project in some detail.
"I guess what we want to do today is maybe bring to focus some of the comments that I've heard over the last several months," Hamilton told the council.
He referred to the people of Emmetsburg as "fairly silent," noting that they "don't get too excited about things."
"Once in a while, if we feel something is off kilter, the council is not getting the message, particularly in this message of opposition to the proposed community center, we feel it's our obligation to at least address the council with our concerns."
Hamilton talked about the assets of the community community college, health care, school system and the lake then pointed to population loss and a shrinking tax base, and an industrial park that stands empty.
"Our school system has lost, I think, over 500 students in enrollment in the last several years," Hamilton said. "We have 3A facilities, but we have 1A school population. We can't sustain that loss... We all have an opportunity as council members and citizens to try to attract people to our town."
He added, "We've got a lot of problems that I think are economic development problems. Where we're coming from, at least where we are economically -- Is the community center a high priority for the residents of Emmetsburg?"
Hamilton pointed out two studies, one in 2009 and another in 2011, where community residents and community leaders were asked that question. He stated that 82-percent of the community residents said a community center is not a priority, and community leaders also said a community center is not a high prioritoy item based on other priorities.
In March 2012, Hamilton and concerned citizens circulated a petition: "We, the undersigned residents of Emmetsburg, Palo Alto County, Iowa, are in opposition to the current proposal for the construction of a community center. We feel there are less expensive options that should be considered by the council." The petition, which had 450 signatures, was presented to the council.
"So the residents of Emmetsburg have told you in the past and are telling you tonight that this project is not a high priority compared with some other priorities that we have," said Hamilton.
He told the council that a community center would not create private sector jobs and would not bring young families to Emmetsburg to help the schools grow, nor would it bring more industry to town.
Unforeseen consequences of building a community center, according to Hamilton, would be effects on the VFW and Wild Rose Casino. He presented a statement from VFW Post #2295: "The membership simply says, and they'd like it recorded in the record, 'We do not approve the current plan to build a community center,' with a list of people that signed."
He added, "So what if we build this and the VFW loses a significant amount of income and they close their doors? That would be a negative impact on the community I think it would be devastating if that happened, and I think the community, in a large number, would agree with me."
Hamilton told the council, "If you build a community center in direct competition with the casino-again, I've been speaking to a fairly significant member of Palo Alto County Gaming and Development Corporation they are concerned that if we build this facility and we are in direct competition with the casino there is a choice the casino can make and that is Do we give Palo Alto County or PACG 6-percent of the gross revenue or do we give 3-percent? Organizations across the county would lose $900,000 in grant money. The city of Emmetsburg and all other cities would lose by 50-percent the money they get from the Palo Alto County Gaming Commission for their per capita income. In Emmetsburg alone, that would be about $90,000 a year
"So before you get so far down the road that you can't get this thing at least organized to a point where maybe can do a smaller project we're not saying not do anything there's some real economic problems that I think we're going to be facing," Hamilton said.
He also expressed concern about the City Council spending $750,000 without a public hearing.
"There were some dog and pony shows, informational meetings, but a public hearing's different. People are on record. People can't just say whatever they feel like saying without having some consequences or at least being put on record. There's been no public referendum brought up. In fact, I read in the paper here several weeks ago, you say by law you don't have to have a special election. Well when you're spending nearly a million dollars of our money taxpayers' money, it may not be property taxes I think you should at least ask us and maybe a special election might be the way to do it."