The Grapevine City Council has agreed to go forward with a new $68 million bond proposal to pay for a new public safety building and expansion of the Community Activities Center (CAC). Come this November, you will be asked to vote on this bond package. It would be more interesting if the City split the proposal into two separate packages. They really are two separate decisions: one for a public safety building ($38 million) and one for expansion and renovations to the CAC ($30 million). Maybe they will split them, we do not know.
Do We Need It?
Our first and only real question is “Do we need it?” In fact, it is a question we would like to see our city council and city government ask more often when it comes to spending public funds. We will answer that question below.
Let’s take a look at each project separately.
First, the current police and courts building is 34 years old. The building was completed in 1978 when the Grapevine population was about 10,000. (Notably, we had the same mayor then as we do today.) The building was designed to support a town much smaller than the population of roughly 50,000 that it currently supports.
The new public safety building will hold both the police and fire departments as well as have room for courts. The new space would provide our first responders with ample meeting space and storage space that is not available today.
In general, governments are designed to provide general public services and safety like our first responders (police, fire, 911). And in general our city government does a great job at these types of services. So in this case, when we ask “Do we need it?” The answer is a definite Yes.
Second, the Community Activities Center was built only 16 years ago. The population of Grapevine was around 38,000 16 years ago. The population has grown by about 12,000 people to roughly 50,000.
That is a pretty big difference in the two buildings in terms of age of the facilities and the population growth since inception. The population has grown 400% since the police building was built and only 32% since the CAC was built.
The expanded Community Activities Center will double the size of the current facility to around 100,000 square feet. Included in the $30 million expansion would be an indoor water park with water slides and a lazy river.
In general, when governments stray outside of basic services and get into other areas they do it less efficiently than if a private sector person or company provided the service. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the most basic are around profit and competition. Governments have little incentive to provide services at maximum efficiency because there is no profit incentive.
Perhaps some of you, like us, already pay for a private gym and swimming pool to use. Maybe you do this because it is more convenient than a drive across town to the CAC. If approved, like us, you will be paying for two gyms: the one you currently use plus the newly expanded one that you might not use because it is inconvenient.
The current CAC has roughly 8,000 registered members. If it is like most gyms, it gets the most use from about 10 to 15 percent of its membership. So our estimate would be that the CAC is used regularly by about 1,000 or so Grapevine residents. But in this case, the city will be asking 50,000 of us to pay for a gym that benefits about 2% of us. And in general, that is what governments do. They take resources from many in order to provide for a few. Governments tend to do this less efficiently than private citizens or businesses because of the profit thing we mentioned earlier.
So in the second case, the $30 million CAC expansion, if we ask “Do we need it?” The clear answer is a definite No.
All this government spending and debt talk reminds us of a quote from the great economist Milton Friedman when he was asked how much government spending should be cut. His reply was simply, “As much as possible.”