THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo
As city budget negotiations go down to the wire, the fate of Toledo’s four public water parks appears to be drowning in a pool of confusion.
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins is struggling with the fiscal dilemma of how to keep the city’s pools operating while addressing budget constraints. It may be time for the mayor to ask for financial help from corporate citizens, churches, and other community groups.
These popular pools must remain open. As anyone who has observed them on a sultry summer day knows, they greatly benefit children, some of whom have few recreational outlets in Toledo. Helping to keep them open could become a gratifying way for private-sector groups to show their community pride.
In early March, Mayor Collins declared in his 2014 budget proposal that the city’s four pools would be closed because of a lack of funding. Within hours, after picking metaphorical buckshot out of his hide, he changed course, stating that police resources might be able to help with the funding.
The plan apparently was to tap the Law Enforcement Trust Fund, which is money obtained by police from seizures of property, cash, and other assets. But city officials determined such a move would be inappropriate.
So Mayor Collins now proposes taking $254,383 from the general-fund budget — money allocated to purchase new apparel for uniformed employees — to use for the pools. Trust-fund money then would be substituted to buy the uniforms.
The City Council must approve the budget by today.
This head-spinning fiscal shuffling borders on ludicrous. If the city really needs help keeping the pools open, maybe it should enlist the community’s help.
Cash-strapped communities all across America have grappled with the expense of operating pools. Some have found creative ways to address the problem: shortening the pool season, pursuing federal block grants, even charging families a manageable fee for summer passes.
And for at least a decade, but especially since the Great Recession, local governments, led by innovative elected officials, also have accepted donations to help with the cost of summer recreation for children in their communities. In 2009, the city of Toledo accepted donations from churches and business owners to help with public pool maintenance.
City government must do what it can to give kids positive activities in summer. That’s especially true for children whose parents can’t afford to provide those activities themselves. Without them, children will find other ways to occupy themselves.
It’s unseemly, and a little sad, that government would have to practically beg for money to maintain basic public recreation services. Then again, maybe such an effort could become a source of community pride and cohesion.
The city should do what it takes to keep the pools open, including asking the corporate community and others for help.