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Plan puts Toledo recreation programs in peril

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City pools are among the facilities on the chopping block if funds can’t be found to keep them open, according to the outlook presented to Toledo City Council.

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Next year is looking bleak for Toledoans who enjoy swimming, ice skating, or playing sports in city parks.

A proposed $300,000 cut to the city’s 2012 recreation budget threatens to shut down a large portion of Toledo’s already reduced public leisure offerings.

Programs on the chopping block include T-ball and boxing, the Toledo Umpire Association, and special events held at city parks. Toledo’s swimming pools and the Ottawa Park Ice Rink also would be closed if no other funding sources are found.

In addition, the recreation department would cease to maintain baseball and softball facilities, end repair and replacement of sports equipment for games such as tennis, basketball, and bocce, and eliminate rentals of shelter houses.

Recreation and facilities manager Sherrie Shipman presented the bleak outlook Monday during a council committee hearing to discuss Mayor Mike Bell’s proposed 2012 budget. Ms. Shipman said that with about $620,000 to spend in 2012, down from about $900,000 this year, the department will not have enough money to cover many basic operating expenses.

“There’s no funding in the budget for line items such as fuel for tractors, for pesticides … all these line items are not funded,” Ms. Shipman said.

City council already had heard that the parks and forestry division would maintain upkeep of Toledo’s park grounds next year. And council last week honored Albert Bell, a boxer who trains at the Toledo City Gym at Savage Park as part of the Central City Boxing Club. He is a contender for the U.S. boxing team that will compete at the 2012 Olympics in London.

“We’re going to have grass cut but we’re not going to have any kids playing in the parks,” Councilman Lindsay Webb said.

Then she added: “What is Mr. Bell going to do to get himself ready for London?”

“I don’t know what all of our kids are going to do,” Ms. Shipman replied.

Councilman D. Michael Collins pinned the blame for recreation cuts on reduced state funding to local governments. He also suggested top-level officials in the Bell administration reduce their salaries to help pay for recreation programming.

“I never expected to see cuts this deep,” Mr. Collins said.

“I believe this is going to stir much debate among council members because certainly the summer of 2012 is going to present, with no community recreation programs for the city’s youth, challenges for our safety forces.”

While the cutbacks proposed are extensive, Ms. Shipman said she is confident her staff can find new ways to fund the programs and facilities in peril.

She said her division will seek additional funding from grants, the private sector, and some remaining recreation-related city funds. Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said several athletic and recreation trust funds could be tapped.

Ms. Webb said she hopes council’s recent establishment of a committee to examine recreation funding issues will help ameliorate the problem.

The 19-member Recreation District Steering Committee will be made up of representatives from organizations such as the YMCA and the Toledo Boys and Girls Club and will look for new ways to provide recreational opportunities to city residents, particularly young people and seniors. The committee will meet at the start of next year and present its findings to council in June, Ms. Webb said.

In the meantime, however, next summer could be grim for city youth who depend on Toledo’s parks and pools for things to do, Ms. Webb acknowledged.

“We will experience diminished recreation programing in the city this year, I am certain,” Ms. Webb said. “It just underlines the need for the city to take a long-term comprehensive look at how we fund and operate recreation opportunities.”

Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett cbarrett@theblade.com or 419-724-6272.

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