Records requests dive in
to Aquatic Center financials
1st of 3 op-eds related to New Albany records requests
Last August, we requested information from the city of New Albany relating to a number of areas of city operations, including:
• Revenue, expenses and attendance history for the Aquatic Center;
• Attorney fees related to the city’s legal dispute with Floyd County over ownership of the Criminal Justice Center;
• Correspondence between city officials and the developer of the new city hall; and
• Advertising expenses.
We requested this information because good government requires citizens to understand how their tax dollars are being spent and to hold their elected officials accountable. Such accountability starts with transparency.
We all encountered stonewalling by city officials who ignored our individual requests for records. This was in violation of Indiana law, which gives citizens access to most public records, except those that contain certain personal or privileged information.
Nothing came of follow-ups to city officials in September. In October, we contacted Indiana’s public access counselor, which is the state office that exists to help answer questions and resolve disputes over open records and open meetings.
The access counselor wrote in a formal opinion that the city violated state law, and in December a judge ordered the city to produce the records and pay several thousand dollars in court costs and attorney fees.
At the end of December — after four months of delay — the city provided the records. They revealed a lot, and they also raised many new questions.
This summary begins in the shallow end, so to speak, and gets deeper as other topics are addressed in op-eds to follow. The focus of this installment is the Aquatic Center.
The city has claimed the Aquatic Center has been operating in the black. The records show that there are some significant omissions in the city’s accounting for the center.
The city’s records suggest that the Aquatic Center was close to break-even in 2018 and 2019. For example, in 2018, expenses were $502,417 while revenue was $510,767 — a positive margin of about $8,000. But there’s a discrepancy. The administration reported to the city council during last summer’s budget hearing that 2018 revenue was $502,997. Based on that figure, the Aquatic Center was within $600 of losing money. The figures for 2019 were generally similar, showing the complex about $23,000 to the good.
Importantly, these figures reflect only current revenue and expenses. They don’t account for big-ticket repair and replacement of facilities and equipment, nor do they account for the cost of paying off the bond issued to finance the facility that originally cost $11 million.
In 2018, the center was open for 89 days. It was closed because of weather on five days and closed early due to weather on 27 days. Attendance [at the] center: 45,430 visits. In 2019, there were 48,008 visits, and the facility was completely closed for three days and closed early 26 times as a result of weather.
The purpose of this inquiry is not to suggest that the city should close or sell the Aquatic Center. The simple objective is there to be transparency regarding its true cost.
Many of the records received raised as many questions as they answered. In addition to concerns about the actual costs of financing and keeping the Aquatic Center going, one might wonder as to whether there have been any transfers from other city operations, like the sewer department, to assist in covering expenses.
In the meantime, look for upcoming op-eds on our other records requests.
Irv Stumler, New Albany
Steve Roberts, Floyds Knobs
Heather Archibald-Peters, New Albany