The clean white tables were aligned in a neat square, lined with shoulder-to-shoulder Douglas City Council members, county commissioners and opinionated community members.
The city and county ultimately agreed to take 30 days to think about funding two proposed projects before making a final decision.
Monday afternoon, the city council and county commission held a joint work session to hash out local philanthropist Jim Willox’ request for the two governments to fund two-thirds of the cost of new Douglas Youth Hockey Association and Boys & Girls Club facilities.
Last month, Willox – the father of County Commissioner Jim Willox – proposed the city and county cover $5 million of the estimated $7.5 million combined costs for both projects. The other third of the budget would be covered by private funding from the DYHA and B&GC.
In the past few years, the club has increased membership from 100 to 300. B&GC CEO Michele Carter explained that this spike has stretched their staff beyond thin and forced them to operate in four locations. She explained that an adequate, spacious facility could fix this, as well as offer improved security.
DYHA President Aundi Luckenbihl also pointed out some of the shortcomings of the current temporary hockey rink — its dirt floor, lack of space and the need to tear down and set up the rink each year.
B&GC officials broke ground on their new facility last month, even though they are significantly short of raising the full amount needed to reach their goal. The new site will be along W. Yellowstone HWY next to Thunder Basin Orthopaedics.
The hockey association hopes to construct a rink near Bartling Park. The proposed new rec center, should it be built, would be located nearby but the two facilities would not be connected to each other.
Both the county and city noted the lack of contingencies in the funding plan, with members of both governments addressing the worst possible scenario of spending taxpayer money on non-government-owned facilities that could, down the road, be forced to close or simply be sold by the clubs.
“Hope isn’t a strategy,” Councilmember Karl Hertz said. “How do we respond to the future unknowns?”
The city stressed that, if funding was granted, careful receipts and invoices would need to be submitted to them.
Another issue was the responsibility of the two governments in supporting the projects.
“Nobody doubts the worthiness of the proposal,” County Commissioner Willox said. “The question is, what’s the government’s role.”
County Commission Chairman Robert Short questioned how the construction of the two facilities would benefit the entire community.
Luckenbihl countered that the hockey club offers open skate to the public when they can, but with a bigger and permanent facility, they could do so more often, as they’d be able to operate the rink longer than their current October to March period.
Because hockey games attract out-of-town families, they tend to add business to local hotels and restaurants, she added.
Carter responded that with a larger base of operations, the B&GC could support more children and increase their fundraising.
From the county commission’s perspective, there was also the issue of both projects being located in Douglas and what the benefit would be to Glenrock and elsewhere in the county. Three of the five commissioners (Tony Lehner, Mike Colling and Rick Grant) are from Glenrock, and a fourth one – Short – lives in Douglas but owns several businesses based in Glenrock.
“It’s the community’s kids (we’re helping), and I include Glenrock in that,” the elder Willox suggested. He said that skaters from Glenrock often use Douglas’s existing ice rink, and a bigger rink could mean more skaters.
“The question is, if we are being fair to taxpayers (if funding was given),” Lehner said.