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Published: Thursday, 1/12/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Youth violence spurs effort to provide summer activities

BY CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dustin Matney, 23, and his girlfriend , Bowsher High School graduate Alivia Burns, 19, skate at Ottawa Park. They said that Toledo has seen too many cuts in recreation in schools and the city itself. Dustin Matney, 23, and his girlfriend , Bowsher High School graduate Alivia Burns, 19, skate at Ottawa Park. They said that Toledo has seen too many cuts in recreation in schools and the city itself.
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Faced with a spate of youth violence on the streets of Toledo, the Bell administration and city council are stepping up efforts to find ways to provide recreation activities for young people this summer.

Mayor Mike Bell has proposed cutting recreational funding by about a third in 2012, a move that threatens to shut many leisure offerings including T-ball, boxing, the Toledo Umpire Association, and special events held at city parks. Toledo's swimming pools and the Ottawa Park Ice Rink could also be closed if no additional funding is found.

However, administration officials said they are now working earnestly to keep at least some pools open and sports activities in place this summer. Two city councilmen are also in the process of organizing two new committees to help come up with new ways to provide youth activities over the long term.

The push for solutions has taken on an increasingly urgent tone in light of ongoing gun violence perpetrated by young men in the city. Some officials fear that if Toledo's already lean public recreational offerings are obliterated by further funding cuts, more youths could be lured into criminal activity.

"Public safety is more than just police officers and police patrols," councilman Steven Steel said at a budget hearing this week. "Public safety is related to giving idle hands something constructive to do."

Mayor Mike Bells' current funding proposal for recreation this year is about $620,000 -- down from about $900,000 in 2011. This year's amount will cover employee costs but not basic operating expenses, city officials said.

Proposed changes in how the city's recreation division is organized could be part of the solution, officials maintain. Mayor Bell seeks to transfer the division from the Department of Neighborhoods to the Department of Public Service, where it would be merged with the division of parks and forestry. Public Service Director Ed Moore said the change, which council is expected to approve next week, won't affect the amount of money available but could make maintaining recreational facilities more efficient.

For example, mowing and maintenance crews and equipment from the public services department could be used to help with the upkeep of sports fields, allowing them to remain open in the summer, he said.

At the same time, Mr. Moore said he has been urging the city's top officials to allocate more money for recreational programming. He said his top priority for recreation this year is to open at least some city pools and to operate summer youth sports programs.

"We are pushing as hard as we can to get additional funding in. We do realize the importance of restoring funding to recreation to engage our youth for the summer," Mr. Moore said. "The worst thing we can do is have a summer of no activities where kids are totally bored and trying to find things to do on their own."

Funding relief  would come as welcome news to Margaret Carney, 62. She is at the Ottawa Park ice rink every day. Funding relief would come as welcome news to Margaret Carney, 62. She is at the Ottawa Park ice rink every day.
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Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said the administration cannot provide any extra general-fund money for recreation but is exploring alternatives.

"There are a number of trust funds that we're looking at as potential sources," he said. "We're exploring all sorts of options."

He said the administration will also meet with a group of community organizations Friday who might be interested in taking over the umpire association.

Councilman Lindsay Webb said she and Mr. Steel are hoping to find more long-term solutions to the city's recreation difficulties. They are in the process of establishing two committees -- a Recreation District Steering Committee and a Youth Commission -- that would bring together city officials and community stakeholders to examine ways to address recreation shortfalls.

Funding relief would come as welcome news to Toledo resident Margaret Carney. The 62-year-old, who skates at the Ottawa Park ice rink every day, said talk of closing the facility had been keeping her up at night.

"I was going to write letters or chain myself to the fence," she said. "If they [cut funding], I'll make a big stink."

Alivia Burns, 19, who graduated last year from Bowsher High School, pointed out that cuts made to sports programs at Toledo Public Schools are already having a negative effect.

"I feel like the whole city's just cutting everything," Ms. Burns' boyfriend, Dustin Matney, 23, said. "There's not enough to do anyway in Toledo. If [young people] can't do sports, what are they going to do?"

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



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