Our view: County’s camp call can delight taxpayersTo the delight of taxpayers, St. Louis County got out of the nursing home business in 2009, turning over operations to the private sector and saving big-time bucks.
To the delight of taxpayers, St. Louis County got out of the nursing home business in 2009, turning over operations to the private sector and saving big-time bucks.
Today the county can take a major leap toward similarly getting out of the summer youth camp business, again thrilling taxpayers who’ve been subsidizing Camp Esquagama, near Biwabik, with more than $300,000 just since 2010. Meeting today in Industrial Township, County Board members are expected to continue to consider a pair of proposals they called for last fall.
Though it’s not clear just what they’re debating.
One proposal, from the Duluth and Mesabi YMCAs, asks the county for $485,000 over five years for camp repairs, upgrades and operational help. It also promises to gradually reduce and eventually eliminate the county’s subsidy within 10 years, at which time the YMCA could buy the camp or keep leasing it from the county. Beyond such favorable financial considerations is this: The YMCA knows how to run a successful summer youth camp. The Duluth Area Family YMCA has been professionally operating a thriving Camp Miller for 115 years, since 1898.
The other proposal, from the Arrowhead Center, a Virginia-based nonprofit chemical dependency treatment center, asks the county for $2.1 million over five years for camp repairs and operations.
So, spending $485,000 of taxpayers’ money vs. $2.1 million of taxpayers’ money?
“It seems like this would be a no-brainer,” Duluth’s Kevin Skwira-Brown, long a watchdog of the County Board, wrote in a letter to the editor published by the News Tribune on Friday.
To the Arrowhead Center’s credit, its director has served successfully as operator of the camp the past two summers. While an argument could be made to stick with what’s working, it could be noted, too, that over those same two years the county’s taxpayer subsidy to the camp skyrocketed more than 230 percent.
In addition, the Arrowhead Center proposes building an alcohol and drug treatment center on the 40-acre Camp Esquagama grounds. While it promises the two will be well away from each other and unseen by each other, a summer youth camp and a treatment center for adults and juveniles with addictive and compulsive behaviors like gambling and drug and alcohol use hardly seems a smart mix on the same plot of land. If such services are needed on the Iron Range, surely a more suitable location can be found.
The county’s experts agree: “Combining youth camp programming with a drug and alcohol treatment center is complicated and may not (even) be possible,” St. Louis County officials wrote in a staff report to the County Board.
Nonetheless, a majority of County Board members appears poised to pick the Arrowhead Center proposal. Not surprisingly, three votes for the solely Iron Range bidder are from all three Iron Range commissioners.
One Duluth-area commissioner, the newly elected Pete Stauber of Hermantown, also appears to be on the side of the Arrowhead Center.
Stauber ran this fall as a fiscal conservative, so his support for the YMCA proposal could have been expected. But his wife is an Iraq War veteran, he has a child with Down syndrome, and the Arrowhead Center committed to camp programming specifically for military veterans and children with special needs. The YMCA said it also would run family and specialty camps and events but wasn’t specific.
Here’s something specific Stauber can keep in mind as he considers his vote: the bottom line, $1.6 million. That’s the amount he and other commissioners stand to save — or cost — taxpayers as they move toward getting out of the summer camp business.