Saturday, February 12, 2011

Basketball Courts as a Government Service

HARBESON: A big ‘whoops’ to government-funded hoops

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — A couple of years ago, the town of Sellersburg decided to lease Nolan Fieldhouse, a site used for basketball and other recreational activities. The fieldhouse was originally built to operate as a private business, but closed when the owner moved from the area.

Sellersburg is losing money on this venture. Lots of money. Last year, the losses were more than $10,000 per month. So what is the proposal now that the lease commitment is about to end and they could just get out?

They want to spend more money and buy it, of course.

On the one hand, officials say that purchasing the property would save money on monthly costs. But then when the details are reported and everyone can see the savings won’t come close to covering the losses, suddenly it’s not about saving money at all. It’s about providing a government “service.”

How can this not be about the money? Well, it has to do with how governments play the game. Let me see if I can explain it in basketball terms. This is how a game scenario would play out if government participated: It’s the last few seconds and the government team is behind. A councilperson pulls up for a jumper and shoots. It’s an air ball, of course, and the buzzer sounds.

Now, a normal game would be over but in this game the government team — and it’s always only the government team that gets to use this special rule — simply directs the scorekeeper to take points earned by the opposing team and give them to the government team.

Understand it better now? Numbers are not as important when you can just take what’s earned by others.

Of course, Sellersburg isn’t the only government that’s involved in playtime. They all do it. It’s costly — the Clarksville Redevelopment Commission just committed funds to the Clarksville Parks and Recreation Department for equipment and property maintenance in the amount of $300,000 — this is per year, for five years.

It’s also divisive; we’ve seen the battles Jeffersonville is experiencing with the new RiverStage, wooded hiking paths and softball fields.

It’s difficult to stop this growth once it gets rolling, but Sellersburg has the chance. If the taxpayers stand strong, maybe they can block this shot and convince the council not to turn more private property into government property.

Maybe Sellersburg can avoid the costs, divisiveness and problems that follow increases in government control.

Don’t misunderstand. Sports facilities are great; I’ve spent a lot of time and money in private sports facilities. But I still do not support using government to force other people who do not use the fieldhouse to pay for it. People can fund the recreational activities of their choice.

If those who enjoy using the fieldhouse really want it to remain, they need to get in the game and find a way to make it happen using private and voluntary means rather than having their recreational choices partially funded by Sellersburg taxpayers, particularly the ones who have no interest in the activities offered there.

Perhaps the person running the Fieldhouse’s Facebook page could focus on networking to search for ways to run it privately rather than encouraging fans to attend government meetings to push for continued government involvement.

I don’t know if the fieldhouse can operate privately and be successful. But if the owner can’t make it work, perhaps someone else wants the property for another business venture. There were other businesses interested at the time Sellersburg decided to lease two years ago.

I don’t know if those businesses or any others would be interested now. All I know is that this should be the property owner’s concern, and not taxpayers who never signed on to take the risk.

Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson has learned how to save lots of money on recreation — she just shoots free throws.


  1. This is along the same lines as my column in the Clovis News Journal this week about the local zoo, and its recent expensive loss:

  2. Boy we sure think alike Kent! If we keep spreading the word, maybe we'll help someone else out there "get it."