Keep options open, but city needs Point Mallard
We hate the thought of a privatized Point Mallard, but we applaud Mayor Don Kyle for keeping all options open.
Financially, the park has not been holding its own for years. It remains solvent only because the city regularly tops it off with taxpayer money.
Money is tight, and every elected city official campaigned on the promise of reducing expenditures, a promise that clearly resonated with taxpayers.
The mayor has delivered no ultimatums. What he has done, quite appropriately, is begin the fact-gathering process for an issue that will no doubt be in the news when the City Council considers another budget a year from now.
He is seeking answers to the question of whether the city can privatize the park, which is located on land leased from the TVA, and what a sublease to a private company is likely to produce for city coffers.
Nothing increases efficiency like free enterprise. If there is a way to make a profit on Point Mallard, free enterprise will find it.
But City Hall should not evaluate Point Mallard's benefits to Decatur solely by the bottom line. What is efficient for a private operator may be inconsistent with important city goals.
The aquatic park is an example.
Geography still largely segregates blacks, Hispanics and whites in Decatur, a fact not entirely remedied by court rulings applying to schools. For years, the aquatic park has been a literal oasis where children of different races can do more than co-exist.
An interracial bond, even if it ends the moment the children exit through the turnstiles, does more to bridge the racial divide than any desegregation order. It provides hope that Decatur's next generation will recognize the value of all people, regardless of race.
A steep increase in the price of admission would be likely if the city loses control of the aquatic park. That is an action that would be great for revenue, but would be an insurmountable barrier to the park's healthy interracial mix.
Safety is another issue that the city views differently than some corporations. A hefty liability insurance policy may leave private operators with little incentive to maximize safety through expenditures on qualified staff and equipment maintenance.
The city, on the other hand, maximizes safety with little regard for lost dollars. Our political system values life, whatever the price tag. That's a good thing.
The profit motive could also lead a private company to think short term when the city's interests are long term. Expensive or not, Point Mallard is tied to Decatur. Tourism efforts focus upon the park. People who have never heard of Decatur know all about the wave pool.
Focusing on profit, a private company might do well to skimp on improvements and maintenance — especially if either the city or TVA could curtail the duration of its lease — because there would be no guarantee it could recoup its expenses. What makes good sense for a private operator is shortsighted for a city whose image is tied to the quality of Point Mallard.
The mayor is right to keep the options open, but privatizing Point Mallard would likely hurt Decatur.