Monday, September 27, 2010

Return on Investment

  When our family moved to Marshalltown in 1994, there was a 5 screen movie theatre on the south side in a ‘mall’ by the Wal-Mart and a 2 screen theatre in the older downtown section called the Orpheum. Within a couple of years the Orpheum closed and the south side theatre has steadily expanded to the point where it can show 12 movies at once. As part of a $25 million dollar bond issue for the Community College, the Community College bought and renovated the Orpheum Theatre and is using it for their fine arts classes. The theatre also has some kids programs and even shows old movies every weekend.

  This past weekend they were showing the ‘Wizard of Oz’. When I was a kid, the movie would be on TV once a year and was a big event to watch. When I was college age, groups of us would get together and watch it in various altered states of mind. I’ve never seen the movie in a theatre and got my wife to go along with me last Saturday night.

  We only had to pay $3 each to see the movie and could get a soda for $2 and candy for $1 or even a quarter for a tiny box of candy like you would get for Halloween. The theater was clean and the screen was large, if smaller than the big screens at more expensive theatres. The movie was a trip to see on a large screen. I wonder what the people who thought this up were thinking of. Munchkins, winged monkeys, and green faced witches indeed! At the time, none of the characters were famous, although the OZ books were very well known. Most of the major actors in the film became icons and many had their obituary on the front page of the New York Times. The story of leaving the dull black and white world to go to the land of Technicolor for an adventure and then wanting to go back home is something that everone can relate to, not just the Depression generation the movie was made for. The special effects hold up fairly well even 70 years later if taken with a grain of salt. I enjoyed the movie and intend on seeing the great Hitchcock movie ‘North by Northwest’ there in a couple of weeks.

  It was nice to actually get some benefit of the millions and millions of tax dollars that have been poured into Marshalltown the last few years. The first big purchase was an aquatic center. The proponents said that Marshalltown had to have it to compete with other towns so companies and people would want to relocate here. It was promised that it would pay for itself, and be open until Labor Day and neither has been the case. More money was poured into a new Public Library. The new building is very nice and won some awards, but the library still has mostly old books, is not open Sundays as promised, and the meeting rooms that were touted as being designed to be available to the community even when the library was closed are off limits except during library hours. I was hoping to be able to have a chess tournament or 2 there, but it isn’t open enough long enough to have one. The library is barely open when I'm not working.

  The latest big ticket item was the remaking of the old library to be the new City Hall. For 1.6 million dollars, our city workers have new offices and a remodeled lobby. Only $700K will have to be directly paid back by the towns taxpayers, since $300K came from Housing and Urban Development's Section 8 Rental Assistance Program (Too bad for anyone who needed rental assistance) and $618,618 came from the I-Jobs program. At the grand opening, State Representative Steve Sodders said "The money has a sole purpose to keep people working and get people working, so it was an investment in this county and in this town. This is an investment in our people." I was curious about this statement and looked at the I-Jobs web site. The $618,618 paid for 10 full-time temporary jobs, none of which were retained. So much for keeping people working. In the teeth of a recession, I’d like to think the city workers could make do with their old offices. At least the rest of the taxpayers in the state will help pay off the $600K, but we have to help pay off their projects also. And a new City Hall won’t bring one job to this town, although the higher taxes from the incurred debt might help keep jobs away. It is just money down the drain. If this was an investment in people, it was a poor investment.

  I don’t know what happened to the rest of the Community College’s $25 million dollars, but I was happy to get a little something back.