By Jason Methvin/Opinion
In 1989, Iowa corn farmer Ray Kinsella was inspired. A whisper in the wind told him to plow up the corn crop, put up lights and build a baseball diamond. Naturally, this raised the ire of his long-suffering wife and put at risk his family, the farm and his future. But with the help of his dead father, the ghosts of the 1919 Chicago White Sox and James Earl Jones, Ray somehow saved the farm and lived happily ever after. As we looked to the horizon, we gazed in wonder at countless headlights streaming towards this monument to the modern age and baseball.
This movie has always left me uneasy. I have too many questions. Are there enough bathrooms? How long are the ghosts going to hang around? Why are the ghosts in Iowa? Who is selling concessions? How much are the tickets? What happens if other farmers build cornfield ballparks? But again, this is a movie.
Flash forward to 2017. The City of Natchitoches is flush with Eighteen million unused taxpayer dollars. It can’t be spent until Natchitoches citizens vote to rededicate the funds for other purposes such as roads, utilities, and waterlines. BORING. Inspired by the baseball building fever of towns like Sulphur, Ruston, Youngsville and Sterlington, the mayor and the council have eureka moment. Let’s build a baseball park with soccer fields, swimming holes and cross-country trails. So, they promise the people that the park will cost nine million dollars, be managed in part by Northwestern and that revenue estimates forthcoming would show that the city would prosper. Trust us, they said. And so, we did.
Twelve million dollars later, the Council has taken a Solomonic deep breath. On Monday, the Council on Monday decided to pull its selective taxation scheme after receiving pushback from its voters. They want to study newly “verified” projections to see if the tax is necessary. They want to study the effect that the use tax will have on material costs for new construction. They want to study the effects the tax will have on single- room, out- of -town, travel ball grandparents staying for a weekend and corporate customers who reserve blocks of rooms for extended periods of time. They want to know if they can give tax dollars to Northwestern and find out if Northwestern is willing and able to sign an intergovernmental agreement to take at least in part some of the burden of managing the ball park.
Yet why am I uneasy? I have too many questions. Why did it take two years and twelve million dollars to get a “verified” revenue projection? Are the revenue estimators the same ones that Sterlington used? Are these estimators the same ones that provided projections for the Convention Center and downtown hotel? When did the Council decide that they would use a TIFF district tax to pay for the park without letting voters have a say? Did we have to spend the money on fun money projects or could we have spent it on much needed equipment for police and firefighters? When did they know that the tax would be necessary to keep the operation solvent? But most importantly, if the mayor and the council would have told us in 2017 that an additional tax would be necessary to sustain the operation of the ballpark, would the voters have approved the rededication in the first place?
I pray that the 1919 White Sox rest in peace. I trust that James Earl Jones has retired. And I’m sure Ray and his wife are safe and sound in sequel land. But this isn’t a movie and they can’t help us. The Council is what we have. Trust them we did. And so, we built it.