Pools, dog park not a priority for cash-strapped city

By Maggie Thurber | For Ohio Watchdog

DOG PARK: If the non-profit Toledo Unleashed can’t raise the funds for a dog park, should the city spend tax dollars to create one instead?

The headlines read:

“Public pools for Toledo’s young people is an essential city service and a quality-of-life issue.”

“Creating a free-of-charge dog park is a small thing Toledo can do that could have a big economic and social payoff.”

Public pools and free dog parks are not what people normally think of when asked about “essential” city services. Usually, essential public services are police, fire, roads, water, tree trimming, snow and leaf removal and tax collection.

But not in Toledo where these two editorial headlines from the Toledo Blade reflect a warped sense of what is important.

Newspapers routinely make editorial comments, offering its own perspective on issues. But in Toledo, the direction from The Blade editorial board routinely becomes public policy.

Maybe it’s because politicians believe they’ll have cover for going along with whatever is suggested — or maybe they just don’t want to upset the only daily paper in the city. For whatever reason, it’s not unusual for the priorities identified on the opinion pages to become the priorities on the City Council agenda.

In the case of pools and free dog parks, however, that would be wrong.

Pools certainly are a nice thing to have, but most people don’t have one. In fact, according to the Census Bureau’s American FactFinder site, only 16 percent of U.S. households have a pool. While the major cities in Ohio do offer public pools, Toledo’s attendance numbers show that less than 2 percent of the city 284,012 population take advantage of them.

Millions of children have grown up just fine without the benefits of swimming at a pool. And many have survived hot summers with a $5 sprinkler and a garden hose.

Besides, for much less than the estimated $512,685 cost of opening the city pools – or charging golfers and grieving families more to offset that cost – kids can get a membership at the Boys and Girls Club and swim year-round, in addition to a host of other activities.

Do free dog parks really provide a “big economic payoff”? How much interest is there in a dog park?

The City of Toledo gave the nonprofit Toledo Unleashed a five-year lease on a property so they could create a dog park and charge for memberships. They only paid $5 for the lease.

The group announced it needed to raise $75,000 for construction costs. And since so many people were so excited about a dog park, that should be easy to raise, right?

Apparently not. Toledo Unleashed only raised $3,000 so far. There doesn’t appear to be as much interest in citizens or users paying for the dog park, so obviously the solution is for the city to provide one free, at least according to the editorial.

But isn’t the claim that free dog parks are an economic payoff negated by the fact that the group has fallen so short of its fundraising goal? Isn’t the fundraising — or lack thereof — an indicator of the larger interest in the project?

Certainly, Toledo Unleashed has more time to raise the funds, but if a nonprofit group cannot generate the money necessary to complete a project, should government take over? If the citizens aren’t voluntarily spending their non-tax dollars for it, should government step in and spend scarce public tax dollars instead?

Why would elected representatives make a public dog park a priority when they are already taking $14 million out of their Capital Improvement Plan funds just to meet their yearly general fund obligations?

That’s right. Their 2014 budget is about $14 million short, so officials budgeted a transfer out of the CIP account to cover the shortfall, bringing the total transferred during the past several years to more than $90 million.

Considering the regular annual deficit the city faces, the lack of outside financial support for these amenities and the unexpected harsh winter effects — like the plethora of potholes the city needs to fix — pools and free dog parks shouldn’t even make the list.

But this is Toledo, so don’t be surprised when the city makes them a priority, to the detriment of truly “essential” services.

Category: Commentary, Ohio Commentary, dog park, Government Spending, Ohio, spending priorities, swimming pools, Toledo

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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