Our Voice: TRAC subsidies worthy of community's support

Sometimes it seems as though the TRAC center in Pasco doesn't get the respect it deserves.

Twenty years ago, the people of the community said we needed a Trade Recreation and Agricultural Center, and the public facility was built.

Now it seems that many -- including some elected officials -- fail to remember that public facilities such as coliseums and expo halls are not intended to make a profit. They are built for the good of the community, and events held there spin off into multipliers of dollars spent around town.

If there is a large convention at a public facility, money will be spent by the attendees at hotels, restaurants, gas stations, etc. The public facility is the catalyst for the spending, not the profit center.

So at TRAC, which is subsidized by Franklin County and the city of Pasco, $400,000 annual losses have been typical since it opened in 1995, though that deficit has grown smaller in recent years.

"It's not intended to make money, and it likely won't," Troy Woody, TRAC's general manager, told the Herald last year. "Nor will a senior center or coliseum or Dust Devils stadium. All these things are built with government money because private sector people know it's not good math when the cities and counties are the ones who benefit from all the spin-off money."

In recent years, Woody has managed to bring the losses down. The deficit in 2012 was $237,000, for example.

So it's no surprise that the facility needs supplemental funds from Franklin County to make ends meet during the year.

Commissioners recently approved a $100,000 loan to the facility to address cash flow issues during the slower summer months.

Pasco is a "silent partner" in the facility, splitting the cost of the annual losses with the county.

The recent loan is expected to be paid back within a year at 0.8 percent interest. It's kind of like how a farmer uses an operating loan or a business uses a line of credit. You tap into it when income is slow and pay it off when the revenue rolls in.

TRAC's bookings this year have not been what was projected, and with more facilities competing for business, such as the soon-to-open Carousel of Dreams and the Reach museum, it could get worse as the year progresses.

A bit of a cloud has been cast over the center, with a state auditor's report finding fault with cash handling procedures involving ATMs. That was addressed by hiring an outside vendor to manage the machines.

The county also is looking to hire a company to perform a comprehensive outside audit of TRAC.

Some officials have expressed interest in redeveloping the facility to make it more marketable, bringing in a private management company or selling the building altogether.

Building a public facility is a long-term commitment. Pasco has agreements in place requiring it to help Franklin County fund the facility until 2024, but the future of the facility is by no means certain.

Last year, a plan was floated to turn part of it into a proposed aquatics center. A different site was eventually selected, and the plan died when it failed a public vote.

We'll be interested to see what the outside audit recommends, but for the time being, the public needs to support TRAC, and those charged with funding it need to remember the premise of a public facility. They're not money makers, they're community builders.