Hours after an announcement that Toledo’s pools would be closed this summer, Mayor D. Michael Collins revealed a possible alternative source to fund summer aquatics fun: seized drug money and revenue from seized properties.
Toledo councilmen blasted Collins administration officials when it was revealed during a parks and recreation committee hearing that the city would have no money this year to open its public pools.
Mayor Collins said the city’s Police Athletic League might be able to help.
“I have considered council’s input on public recreation and specifically pools,” the mayor told The Blade late Thursday.
“I will review the budget from the law enforcement trust, which are monies secured by police operations as a result of seizing property, cash, and other tangible items, and I will work with the Police Athletic League to incorporate the pools under its program,” Mr. Collins said.
The mayor said his plan would take money seized from criminal activities and use it for recreation.
“I am waiting to get the budget from the police department as to how much money they have,” he said. “I didn’t want to make a statement until I saw the budget.”
The proposed parks and recreation budget is slashed in several other areas, including operations at the city-owned ice rink, cemetery upkeep, and Toledo’s two public boat launches.
The 2013 budget included $230,605 for pools, and the city operated six pools and a splash pad at Savage Park in Central Toledo.
Buried within the proposed 2014 budget — which council must approve before March 31 — is a line item listing pools with $0 as proposed funding.
That revelation Thursday was met with consternation from councilmen and angst from residents who attended a lengthy parks and recreation council committee meeting.
“We always get through this dance and when it comes down to the dickens, we find a way to open the pools,” Councilman Jack Ford said during the public meeting before the mayor made his alternative public.
“We know you are going to open some pools up if we have hot weather, so plan for it,” Mr. Ford said.
Mr. Ford later issued a warning to Collins’ administration officials that either the mayor would rework the budget for recreation or council would make the adjustments.
The pools’ budget has been reduced to nothing in the past.
During the Bell administration, council intervened and restored funding for pools.
Councilmen Larry Sykes and Lindsay Webb made impassioned pleas for either the mayor to fund pools and recreation on a greater scale or warned council would adjust the budget to fund those activities.
“Pools are very vital for inner-city kids,” Mr. Sykes said. “Some of us who have memberships to country clubs can take our kids there.”
Ms. Webb has long criticized the city’s recreation budget as too small.
“The East Toledo Family Center budget is bigger than the entire recreation budget for the city of Toledo,” she said.
Ms. Webb later said she was pleased the mayor had found a possible source of funding.
“I am glad to hear he has a short-run solution,” Ms. Webb said. “I need him to provide leadership in the long run. What I called for during the hearing was for the mayor to pull together a table of the city, TPS, Washington Local Schools, the Metroparks [of the Toledo Area], and embark on a discussion on a joint recreation district.”
City spokesman Lisa Ward said she was reviewing permissible uses for the law enforcement trust fund, which, while not flush with cash, has a steady revenue stream from police operations.
“It typically generates around $200,000 to $250,000 a year, which would be adequate to fund the recreation portion of pools pending council approval,” Ms. Ward said. “That is just one of the ideas we are looking at.”
Dennis Garvin, the city’s commissioner of parks, recreation, and forestry, said the city pools “need a lot of work,” and prefers the city develop a plan to switch all the facilities to splash pads, a flat recreation area in which water is sprayed upward out of a “rain deck.” Splash pads would not need lifeguards or supervision, Mr. Garvin said.
The pools opened last year were Roosevelt, Wilson, Navarre, Jamie Farr, Pickford, and Willys. They are usually opened in mid-June.
Ms. Webb said last year that she was not satisfied with just six pools and the splash pad.
The pools ran over budget in 2012. Council had to approve an additional $184,000 late that year from the general fund to pay for unbudgeted staffing and maintenance.
One of the warmest summers in Toledo’s recent history, 2012, had four 100-degree days and 28 in which the high temperature topped 90. The previous summer also was warmer than normal. Last summer, however, it was cooler.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac has predicted this summer in the lower Great Lakes region will be hotter than normal, with slightly below normal rainfall.
That same source, however, predicted weather this winter would be milder than average, with “below-normal snowfall in most of the region.”
Other problems such as equipment failure at the aging pools and vandalism have cost the city thousands.
Detwiler Park and Roosevelt Park were deemed unusable in 2010 because thieves stole plumbing fixtures. Roosevelt was put back into use with costly repairs of about $100,000.
Detwiler remained closed, along with other city pools ruled too expensive to renovate and operate.
The city charges a $1 admission for children under age 12 and $2 for those 13 and older. Children under 8 must be accompanied by an adult.
Roosevelt Pool is in central Toledo’s Smith Park; Willys Park, 1375 Hillcrest Ave., is in the west end; Jamie Farr, 2200 Summit St., is in the north end; Pickford, 3000 Medford Drive, is in South Toledo; Wilson, 3252 Otto St., is near Stickney and East Central avenues, and Navarre, 1001 White St., is on the east side. The Savage Splash Pad, 645 Vance St., is off Nebraska Avenue.
Other recreation cutbacks were also criticized on Thursday.
Mayor Collins proposed slashing city athletics from $740,824 in 2013 to $528,585 this year; cutting park maintenance from more than $1 million to $933,822; cutting downtown maintenance from $207,393 to $123,924, and reducing cemetery operational expenses from $470,880 to $429,098.
The mayor’s budget also slashes funding for the ice rink at Ottawa Park by more than 50 percent, or $48,912. That means it would not reopen in November, Mr. Garvin said.
The two city boat launches at Walbridge and Cullen parks would lose a combined $212,692 for operations this year under the budget proposal. In 2013, the city spent $269,463 on the two facilitates.
The city has 146 parks with 77 playgrounds, and five cemeteries.
Linda Hendricks of East Toledo made a tearful plea to council Thursday to better fund cemeteries and city recreation such as pools.
Ms. Hendricks said she cannot find the graves of family members buried at Forest and Maplewood cemeteries because of high grass, poorly maintained markers, and bad record-keeping.
“The kids in East Toledo don’t make enough money to go to the YMCA,” Ms. Hendricks said. “We have to do much better.”
The closure of the splash pad at Savage Park in central Toledo would be a disappointment to the Frederick Douglass Community Center, which hosts summer camp for children ages 5 to 12, said Sonya Harper-Williams, executive director.
“We went over there two or three times last summer. The children enjoyed it and it was a way to have them close to the center at an affordable cost or no cost,” Ms. Harper-Williams said.
Beth Lewandowski, vice president of One Village Council in North Toledo, said closing pools conflicted with the kind of campaign that Mr. Collins ran last year.
During a campaign forum in East Toledo, Mr. Collins criticized then-Mayor Bell for demolishing the former Ravine Park Pool and suggested he would have paid for the repairs out of the $5 million surplus then forecast for the city.
At a mayoral forum held in Burroughs School last October, both Mr. Bell and Mr. Collins committed to study locating a water park in the area.
Mr. Collins went further, saying, “I assure you, you will have a water park.”
Staff writer Tom Troy contributed to this report.