We learned this week about the Athens City Budget. The City has made a great decision to fund core needs. Who takes the hit? The Cain Center. Here are my 5 thoughts on the Athens City budget and the Cain Center. (Listen to our podcast on the issue here.)
1. Props to Philip Rodriguez, Athens City Manager, for herding the Athens City Council to the budget room to decide how the City wants to budget for the future. The City is cutting the $130,000 cash it gives annually to the Cain Center. Deciding that core expenses are a priority sounds like the most prudent and logical budget discussion we’ve ever had in Athens. Seriously. The idea that we are going to fund fixing roads and infrastructure before we give money to other luxury services is fantastic. Great job City Council and City Manager
2. I hate to say it, but 18 months ago I mentioned that the Cain Center was on life support. The discussion at the time was pretty much in favor of how do we save it. With the city cutting $130,000 in funding, it would appear that the Cain Center has taken a direct hit. We need to realize that the City not only gave $130,000 annually but also did not charge for water, sewer and some insurance related costs which was an additional benefit to the Cain Center in the sum of $60,000 or so annually. The City is going to continue to provide water, sewer and the insurance needs but the $130k is gone.
3. Should the Cain Center attempt to raise additional funds or allow the plug to be pulled? The current requirements placed on the Cain Center by the initial donors may not work in today’s world. If the Cain Center closes its doors, it looks like the facility will go back to the City. The City doesn’t want to be responsible for the estimated $4 million to $5 million needed in building renovations so what are the city’s options? Great question. My suggestion is to figure out how to relieve ourselves of the obligation as soon as possible. If we don’t, we will just have another old hospital building on our hands. However, just giving the building away may not be enough – we need to secure immediate promises and assurances that we don’t have another old hospital building situation. If the Cain Center receives some additional funding, we need to figure out is this a band-aid or a long term fix.
4. The Cain Center has historically had a very large board that many people in Athens have served on. Not trying to place blame, but my question is how did we get where we are? How did we allow the facility to get into such a state of disrepair and how could so many well qualified business people not see that radical change was necessary to compete with the other gyms in the area? I heard today that the Cain Center has about 300 members. Really, I think some of the local gyms in town that shall go remain undisclosed have more than twice that number of members with relatively no overhead.
5. If the Cain Center closes, how long will it be before Athenians wake up and see that the future is here and we have not done a good job of getting ready? If we really want to compete with the donut communities of Dallas or Tyler, we are going to have to take care of the facilities we have and make sure they are properly funded for the future. We can’t afford luxury items without tax increases. Nobody wants a tax increase so there you go. We will haver to properly budget for our core city services and say goodbye to luxury items such as the Cain Center.
I will be as sad as anyone to see the Cain Center close, if that’s what happens. I hope that TVCC considers taking over the Cain Center if the City is allowed to give it away or negotiate something favorable for the college and the City.