A $5 million antique carousel is shaking up local politics in Carmel, Ind.
The Carmel City Council is expected to consider $76 million in new bonds to pay for various projects, including one for a new luxury hotel, a couple of new roundabouts and, an antique carousel.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard says the carousel will increase quality of life for residents of Carmel and could help attract the “best and brightest employees coming out of the best graduate schools across the globe.”
“It’s about what kind of community we build,” Brainard says. “The carousel is one little piece of this.”
But, while some residents are excited for the opportunity to ride an old fake horse around in a circle, there are plenty who don’t love the idea of spending the city’s bond money on a century-old carousel.
Tim Hannon, a resident and physician in Carmel for more than 19 years, went to his first city council meeting to talk about this bond after reading about it in a local newspaper. He said, while he likes the mayor, he was unimpressed with his presentation. After the meeting, Hannon talked to a councilmember about his problem with the carousel, and it was pointed out that just two people showed up to speak out against it. That’s when Hannon started a petition on change.org to see how many other people wanted to the Carmel City Council to reconsider the bond.
“Although a carousel might be nice, it will cost over $5 million to buy and refurbish, purchase land, build an enclosing structure and operate,” the petition reads. “The city council should seek out a donor or donors (individual and corporate) to finance it.”
One resident who signed the petition argued specifically against the mayor’s promise that it will increase the quality of life in Carmel.
“I love that I live in a nice city, but too much money is spent on making Carmel ‘fancy,’ ” the resident wrote.
The mayor, and a competing change.org petition, says he wants these 500-some protest signers to know: it’s not going to put the city in any more debt.
“Probably eight out of 10 of those people [who have signed the petition] have misinformation about it,” Brainard says, adding that he’d like to explain exactly what the true costs are.
So let’s break it down.
The city is still negotiating the final contract for the antique carousel, but the purchase price will be right around $2 million. It will cost an additional $100,000 to move it from Toronto to Carmel, as much as $20,000 to restore it, and then they have to buy land for it and design a building to keep it safe.
“I put $5 million in the bond with a contingency so it could go a little higher,” the mayor says. “It’s not a budget — it’s an early estimate.”
And those funds are all coming out of a bond, so there won’t be any tax increases for it, he says, adding that it will be paid out of existing revenues.
“It’s not that much different than a park playground,” the mayor says, adding a few other figures to put this old carousel in perspective. “We spent about $5 million on just our largest park. One mile for a two-lane road is $10 million.”
But even with that, Hannon and the other people who signed his petition just don’t see this as responsible spending.
“It’s not that we don’t want the carousel or the hotel, we just don’t want the city to pay for it,” Hannon says. “We want the city council not to say don’t do it, but perhaps agree to alternatives.”
While the carousel is currently residing in the country up north, Brainard says these old carousels are pieces of American history.
“All small towns in America had these at the turn of the century,” he said, adding that he’s certain this particular carousel was carved by a German immigrant family in the U.S. “These are works of history.”
No matter what happens, though, Hannon is at least happy to see the carousel controversy started a conversation about responsible spending.
“I think it’s a big win,” Hannon says.
Christianna Silva is an NPR Digital News intern.