Monday, February 29, 2016

On limited government and the HFFA

This is a first for aShortChronicle - a guest post.

Eric Rowell from Huntersville has been writing columns like yours truly for the Herald Weekly for a while now.  Due to space and timing considerations, this one did not make the paper, but its a great follow-up to a piece he wrote a while back on HFFA.


A brief preamble: This column was originally scheduled to run in the Herald Weekly on February 18. The decision was made not to run the column as written due to my most recent column in January dealing with similar subject matter, the HFFA. It can be difficult to thoroughly discuss a complicated issue in approximately 650 words – unlike the internet, print papers still have word limits. I thought this subject matter worthy of two columns and, therefore, decided against revising the column and posting here instead. I appreciate Mr. Short’s hospitality in allowing a non-Davidson related guest post to be published.

In a totally unrelated matter, the HFFA has not run an advertisement in the Herald now for three consecutive weeks while still running ads in the other local weekly paper in Huntersville after my January column was published. See here for that column.  I welcome anyone involved with HFFA in any capacity to respond to the arguments in my January column, or the column below. I am confident Mr. Short would be more than happy to post any response in an effort at fostering dialogue about the proper role of government in Huntersville.


Frederic Bastiat famously defined government as the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else. By this he simply meant that it is within our nature to seek the greatest amount of pleasure while expending the least amount of effort. Man can satisfy his endless wants and desires in one of two ways: by ceaseless labyor and the application of his faculties to natural resources; or by seizing and consuming the products of the labors of other. This fatal tendency of man, to satisfy wants and desires with the least possible effort, is the origin of plunder, which is why Bastiat explains legislators should ensure the law maintains justice by protecting property and punishing plunder.

You’re probably asking, what does any of this have to do with the Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatics center? The HFFA is just one example in Huntersville of the law being perverted by allowing taxpayer funding (i.e., the products of the labors of others) to be used to support, in my opinion, an improper function of town government. Many readers will disagree with this position and the idea of any limits on town government other than what a majority of the Town Board can agree to.

But, it is budget season in Huntersville and the proper function of town government is something that needs to be debated by our elected leaders when deciding how to allocate the scarce revenues available for the large number of potential beneficiaries. If less money went to HFFA, more money could be allocated for Rural Hill for example [see pg. 105 here.]. Reasonable people can disagree over whether Rural Hill should receive any taxpayer funding, but based on current statutes they (along with Latta Planation, the Hugh Torance House & Store, Visit Lake Norman, etc.) are eligible to receive funding from the same pool of money used to fund HFFA.

Ideas and elections matter, even on a local level. The current Town Board was elected, in part, because voters disagreed with the prior board’s overall philosophy on governing, which could be summarized by a motto similar to the Panther’s this season – “Keep Spending.” While the makeup of the Town Board has changed, the same special interests remain and are intent on maintaining the status quo.

HFFA proponents will be heard to proclaim, but how will the citizens of Huntersville stay healthy if taxpayer dollars aren’t used to keep the HFFA open? And what about all of the “economic development” Huntersville benefits from by the HFFA hosting events?

To which I would respond, how do the citizens of Huntersville keep from starving without the town using taxpayer dollars to operate a grocery store? How did any Huntersville resident do sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, run or swim before the HFFA was built?

If we are to accept the premise that the HFFA should continue to be subsidized by taxpayer funding because it is the centerpiece for health in Huntersville and the surrounding communities and because of the alleged economic benefits, should it follow that all other sources of competition be eliminated to maximize these health and economic benefits? Should the Town Board close all other gyms and pools to increase membership at HFFA? When the non-taxpayer subsidized Fitness Center at Birkdale was forced to close due to financial reasons, many former members joined the HFFA. Think of the increased revenues at HFFA if all the gyms in Huntersville were closed and their members all joined the HFFA!

There remains approximately $1,022,940 to be paid on the mortgage for the HFFA through the year 2020 before taxpayer dollars will no longer be necessary for debt service [see pg. 68 here]. The question for current Town Board members is what happens after 2020? Will taxpayer funding continue to be used for the current facility, or will HFFA finally be expected to become profitable?

These and other questions will persist as long as the law is used to take property from one person and give it to another and any attempts to censor such questions should be discouraged.

Eric Rowell is interested in meaningful ideas. He lives with his family in Huntersville.

Comments welcome at or @ericwrowell on Twitter.

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