Civic pride

Friday, June 22, 2007

Although the water-park craze started in the 1950s, we still can't decide if it's one word or two.

All of the trade organizations I can find that cater to operators of water parks prefer the one-word "waterpark." But other spelling guides insist it's "water park." The Webster's New World College Dictionary on my desk (2001 edition) doesn't have either a "waterpark" or a "water park" entry.

Which goes to show just how confusing any discussion about a water park can be. Which is why so many fans of the wet playgrounds prefer "aquacenter." The only thing I can say about "aquacenter" is that is sounds more expensive.

Unless you have just moved to this area from Peru, you know that one of the hot buttons in Cape Girardeau for the past several years has been "water park."

One reason, as best I can tell, is that some other fine Southeast Missouri towns, smaller than Cape Girardeau, have water parks and we don't.

The thing about water parks is how much they cost. They do not come cheap. Some water parks are privately owned. Others are run by municipal park departments. Some are profitable. Some are not. The ones that make a buck tend to be in population areas far more dense than Southeast Missouri.

People who worry that a city-built water park would be a drain on local taxpayers should take a look at the red ink gushing from the old pool at Capaha Park.

Municipal pools seldom make money. They are provided to enhance a community's lifestyle. They provide a healthy alternative to computer games and spray-painting graffiti.

It will be interesting, as more information rolls out on a proposed sales-tax increase to pay for park improvements and storm-water needs, to see what course public discussion takes.

Will those who are opposed to (a) tax increases, (b) parks, (c) water parks in particular, (d) storm water, (e) all of the above lay out their concerns and make a case for better ways to deal with a, b, c and d? Or will they choose familiar phrases from the I'm-against-darn-near-everything menu: "The city doesn't need the money." "City officials are lying to us again." "The city will go broke running a water park." "I'll never vote for another bond issue." (This last one is generally used by those who don't vote.)

Will those who favor parks and storm-water improvements make convincing arguments, citing facts and figures? Or will they say a committee figured out we need these upgrades?

A chorus of Speak Out comments has insisted for a long time that if water parks are such a good deal, why don't private investors build one and assume the risks of bankrolling it and making repairs and adding new features every year so swimmers won't grow tired of the same old thing and head back to -- dare I say it? -- Farmington or Poplar Bluff.

Fair enough.

Let's put every city service to that same test.

If having a well-trained fire department equipped with the latest life-saving gear is such a good deal, why don't private investors run it instead? Of course, like a water park, a private fire department would only make emergency runs to paying customers. Or maybe you'd rather have your firetruck come from -- dare I say it? -- Farmington or Poplar Bluff?

"But Joe," you say, "a good fire department is essential, and a water park is just a frill."

Maybe. But I'll bet if we didn't have a fire department and the city was thinking about asking voters to approve a whopping tax increase to hire firefighters and buy fire engines, there would be the usual smattering of naysayers, all on fixed incomes, who would say it's a waste of taxpayers' money.

I will never use a water park. I seldom go to the public library. I am not likely to take classes at the university. I have no children in the public school system. Still, I prefer to live in a town that takes pride in these institutions, and pride comes with a cost. Everyone else will have to decide for himself what's important.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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