Our View: Time to put our money where our mouths are | TheUnion.com

Our View: Time to put our money where our mouths are

As the 10th annual Amgen Tour of California cycling race geared up to roll out of Nevada City for a third time, race officials made it clear they value their relationship with the city.

“We are proud to have Nevada City as a partner and the AEG Amgen Tour of California would not be where it is at without great partners like Nevada City,” Kristin Bachochin, executive director of the Amgen Tour of California and senior vice president of AEG Sports, told The Union in May.

“It’s a very special relationship,” she said, “and we don’t take it for granted.”

Following Wednesday night’s Nevada City Council meeting, it’s now fair to wonder whether the feeling is mutual.

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Council members denied a motion to explore city funds to help pay back more than $15,000 in debt taken on by council member Duane Strawser to bring the 2015 Amgen Tour of California back to town. The motion needed a four-fifths vote to pass, though was denied on a 2-2 vote, with new Mayor Jennifer Ray, and former Mayor Terri Andersen voting no; Vice Mayor Evans Phelps and council member Robert Bergman voted yes. Strawser recused himself from the vote.

Nevada City officials recognize the race brings fans to town, along with a level of exposure rarely found for such a rural community.

In May 2010, Nevada City’s first year serving as a stage in the race, the city saw a more than $40,000 increase in sales tax revenue compared to the same time a year before, going from $106,987 in May 2009 to $148,071 in May 2010, when the race featured American Lance Armstrong. Sales tax revenue the following race year saw a slight year-over-year decrease dropping to around $126,000 in May 2011, but still nearly more than $20,000 more than 2009, city documents state. The city’s transient occupancy tax revenue saw a marked increase in Nevada City’s second year with the tour, going from $8,627 in May 2010, to $15,478 in May 2011.

“Besides bringing visitors to town,” Nevada City Manager Mark Prestwich said in the weeks following the race, “the Amgen Tour of California helped create local, national and international media attention for Nevada City, Grass Valley and Nevada County; and we are grateful for that.”

Strawser, also owner of Tour of Nevada City Bicycle Shop and organizer of the Nevada City Classic bike race for the past 15 years, helped raise the $50,000 necessary to bring the race to the area this year, and in the previous 2010 and 2011 tours. While the necessary funds for the 2015 tour were raised through local businesses and sponsorships, Strawser said he had to drop certain product categories, such as beer, due to Amgen’s priority contracts with other national brands, leaving a deficit of $15,300, an amount that Strawser and his family have shouldered on their own.

“It’s extremely unfortunate,” Mayor Jennifer Ray said Wednesday. “I am having a really hard time with using public funds for this purpose, not because I don’t have empathy for Duane Strawser or what he’s done, but I don’t believe it’s the right thing to use city funds for that purpose.”

Andersen said she is also sympathetic to Strawser’s situation, though does not support using taxpayer monies to reconcile an event holder’s debt.

But since when did the Tour of California become Strawser’s own event?

After all, each time Nevada City has been chosen to serve as a host of the race, there has been no shortage of city officials celebrating the opportunity to bask in the glow of America’s largest cycling race, noting the economic boon it brings by way of fans attending and new potential tourists learning of the area.

Did Strawser become the “owner” of the debt, because he’s the one who successfully lobbied to bring the race here three times?

Did he assume ownership due to his ability to organize of dozens of volunteers to donate their time to make it happen?

Or did the race become “his” event when, for the first time in three races, the donations fell short of covering expenses?

And for those efforts, he gets stiffed with the bill?

Despite assurances from the City Attorney Hal DeGraw to the contrary, the two dissenting council members, and a former council member who spoke during public commentary, suggested there was something potentially “illegal” or “unethical” about using public funds for such a purpose. Have they not noticed the arena being built for the Sacramento Kings is not being funded solely through donations or private equity? The City of Sacramento agreed to fund $255 million for the new home of the privately owned NBA franchise, because it sees greater value in the long-term economic impact of such an investment.

The $15,000 debt that Nevada City was asked to help cover Wednesday not only pales in comparison to the big public spending in Sacramento, but also apparently when compared with the costs incurred by other host cities of the Amgen race, which reportedly range anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000. In fact, nearby Auburn balked at making a bid for the race in 2013 after raising an estimated $150,000 to $200,000 from donors in 2011 to pay for things like hotel rooms and meals for Amgen, as well as police and fire services.

Nevada City’s vote to not cover the $15,000 debt incurred for the 2015 event not only was shortsighted, considering the acknowledged economic benefit it brings to our tourism industry, but also potentially damages the ability to attract the Amgen race in the future — if not the motivation for the local folks who would once again put in the sweat equity to pull off another stage race in western Nevada County.

“We have to make the point that from now on, the cities and the county have to step up and find a way to fund the big events that are unique, that structurally support the foundation of our budgets and bring money in,” Strawser said prior to Wednesday’s vote. “There should be a fund set aside for major county-wide events.”

We agree. Western Nevada County continues to engage in a great deal of discussion over the need for economic development in our community.

But, as Wednesday’s vote shows, that’s easier said than done.

Talk is cheap. It’s time to start putting our money where our mouths are.

The weekly Our View column represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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