Bettendorf city officials look to offload fitness center to "save taxpayers" $250,000, but $1.7 million annual tax subsidy of Family Museum not on table

Bettendorf city officials say they want to offload the Life Fitness Center to the Scott County Y to "save taxpayers" $250,000 a year.

But just a few blocks north and west of the fitness center sits the city's Family Museum that required six times that amount – nearly $1.7 million – in tax dollars last year to meet payroll.

The fitness center and Family Museum are non-essential city services called "enterprise funds." They, like the pool (Splash Landing) and city owned Palmer Golf Course, need annual subsidies from city coffers.

For many years, the city used sales tax proceeds and revenue from the Isle of Capri gambling boat to offset the enterprise fund deficits, but increasingly the enterprise fund deficits are subsidized out of the regular city budget funds.

Over the years, the city has pushed all the enterprise funds to raise rates to generate additional revenue and lower the annual city taxpayer subsidies.

But the road to break-even has been a struggle for all the enterprise funds, especially the Family Museum, which has never generated enough revenues to come close to offsetting its annual expenses.

Ten years ago, the Family Museum operating deficit was $1.17 million and last year $1.7 million.

For the year ended June 30, 2021 (the most recent year for the city's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, pages 97-98), here are the operating losses: Palmer Golf Course (-$268,938), Splash Landing (-$332,613), Life Fitness Center (-$472,383), Family Museum (-$1,685,108).

Transfer of the fitness center to the Y would take place January 1 of the coming year, months before the city will even have solid financial numbers on its ambitious "The Landing" waterpark and "Frozen Landing" ice-skating park.

Estimates shared with the public at the Aug.16 city council meeting placed the total waterpark cost at $18.7 million. The outdoor ice rink just west of the waterpark was estimated at $3 million.

City officials did not provide a detailed breakdown of costs for the facilities to be built at Middle and 23rd St., nor did they share the proposed agreement with the Y, which would operate the "regional waterpark" and own and operate the fitness center. The city would operate the ice rink.

The city says it would pay $6 million of the waterpark construction, with the Y contributing $6 million and another $6 million coming from private funding and grants.

Though the construction estimates aren't expected to be known for months, city officials want the council to approve the deal with the Y to assume ownership of the fitness center at the Sept. 20 meeting. The Y would re-purpose the fitness center to serve its youth programs and current members would need to look elsewhere for a fitness facility.

Two public input meetings are scheduled from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Wed., Aug. 24 and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29. Both are at the Waterfront Convention Center, 2021 State St., Bettendorf.

The public hearing, along with the city council vote on the plan, is now scheduled for 7 p.m., Tues., Oct. 4 at city hall.

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