Perhaps private enterprise can save community center

Travis McMullen - Contributing Columnist

The government is not a business, and it’s silly to treat it like one. There are always going to be non-profitable government programs that are maintained for the sake of providing or helping to provide useful services to people in the community. This is where the government of the City of Sedalia finds itself, holding the property maintenance bag for a facility that houses three important community programs: Boys & Girls Clubs of West Central Missouri, Sedalia Senior Center and Missouri Valley Community Action Agency Head Start Center.

Yes, people of all ages can find useful and helpful services at the downtown Sedalia Community Center site. And these tenants do pay rent to the city, but there’s a pretty big deficit between the amount of rent that the city takes in for the usage of the facility and the costs to maintain it. The city government has been merely eating these expenses for years seemingly for the sake of making sure these valuable programs continue to have a home.

You probably read Sedalia Democrat reporter Nicole Cooke’s recent story about the city seeking buyers for the property. Of course, it would be nice to find a private buyer who could find a way to continue allowing these programs to stay there as long as they want or need to but not have to lose a reasonable amount of cash each year.

Honestly, I don’t know much about the costs of maintaining a reasonably sized facility like that one. But the numbers quoted in Cooke’s article by City Administrator Gary Edwards’ sound a little high: $80,000 to $90,000, really? But we’ve got to consider that some parts of the building are more than a century old and expansions in 1970 and 1975 might not cooperate so well with the 1914 infrastructure. For that much annual cash it seems like it would make more sense to find temporary homes for those programs, level the place and build something brand-new and efficient that would eventually pay for itself in severely reduced maintenance costs. Maybe the existing structures can be fitted with more reasonable modern systems.

In any case it seems that the city is trying to give private enterprise a chance to see what they can do with the cash problem. There are times when a government subsidized program just can’t continue as originally envisioned. There are occasions where some degree of privatization can provide a useful shot in the arm.

But it seems almost like wishful thinking that there might be a private savior out there, at least if they’re looking to make a profit on their new property as soon as possible. But we do have some very generous organizations and individuals right here in mid-Missouri, so maybe I’m underestimating them.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be a matter of generosity. Maybe there is a great mind out here somewhere who does have a solid plan for bringing things back into the black. There has to be something that can be done.

Like many problems, this one can be reduced to its most simple issues: we need some more money.

It is unlikely that the three programs (or however many will be left in the coming future) will be able to collectively pay for the maintenance of the building that they use, at least if things don’t change.

But really, who can blame the city for seeking a buyer? There’s no harm in looking. Many people probably don’t even realize how much the city subsidizes these programs by not passing the maintenance cost onto them. But a straight up private owner could choose to do that and it might be hard in advance to figure out who will price them out and who will try to help their current situation.

But it would be a shame to see any of these great programs without reasonable facilities to use.

Travis McMullen

Contributing Columnist

— Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.

— Travis McMullen is a longtime Sedalia resident who shares his views on the city through his weekly Democrat column.

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