Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Toledo spending - a lesson NOT learned

About a year ago, I looked at the attendance at our city pools, as the city was planning on expending tax dollars for them in 2008.

From that post:

Last year, the pools served 25,151 entrants. The city did not keep track of how many of those 'entrants' were the same individual. They also charged $1 for entry.

In 2007, there were six pools open (one was a splash pad) compared to the 12 facilities opened in 2006. Despite the increased attendance at two of the pools, overall attendance at the six facilities declined 18.5% from 30,841 to 25,151.
As these numbers are visits and not visitors, it's hard to estimate just how important this cost is to the general public. For sake of argument, let's estimate that individuals likely to use the pool facilities will do so five times during the season. This seems a reasonable estimate considering the number of days the pools are open.

Using this assumption, the pools had about 5,000 unique visitors. The 2006 Census data shows that there are 74,896 children (under 18 years of age) in Toledo. Even if every visitor to the pools was a child, we would be serving less than 7% of the kids in the city. If we consider total population, those estimated 5,000 unique visitors represent less than 2% of the population.

Yet the city is planning to spend about $600,000 for this - which is about $120 per person served. It would be cheaper to buy every kid in the city a membership to the Boys and Girls Club ($5 per year for 16-18 year olds, but only $3 for 7-15 year olds) which would give them access to ALL activities, not just the pools.

I've just received the 2008 attendance information from the city: 23,675. That's a 6% decrease over last year - and remember that 2007 attendance was down 18.5% over 2006. And those numbers are visits, not unique individuals.

Using the same logic as before, if each person visited the pool five times in the season, then we're serving about 4,735 citizens. According to the 2007 Census data for Toledo, there are 73,095 residents under the age of 18. So if every person who visited the pool was under 18, which is certainly not a given, we're only serving 6% of the youth population. Since children did not always go without an adult, when you calculate the number served based upon the total city population, you'll see we are serving 1.6% of Toledoans. And that's using the older, smaller population number - not the increased population number Mayor Carty Finkbeiner worked so hard to get increased.

The total cost for 2008 for the pools, according to the 2009 Toledo budget was $219,234.44. Total revenue was $19,297.50, though the budgeted amount was $32,320.00, a loss of $13,022.50 or 40%. (With results like this is it any wonder the city had a 2008 deficit?)

So we spend nearly a quarter of a million dollars to make sure that 1.6% of the population had a 'service' and we ended 2008 with either an $8 million or $16 million deficit, depending on what city administrator you ask...

Pools are NOT a necessity, but the 'quality of life' issue is always raised as an excuse for such non-essential expenditures. So did this expenditure enhance YOUR quality of life? And was this expenditure more important than the police and fire classes we did NOT have as a result of last year's deficit?

Do you think City Council has learned the lesson from last year? Or will they again fund such non-essentials like pools, and ice rinks and athletic programs while laying off police officers and charging us for fire equipment used during a response?

Southern cities like Charleston, SC, and Memphis, TN are looking better all the time.

Lest you think this really doesn't impact you, remember that the city is looking to 'enhance revenue' by increasing the trash taxes. The decrease in police and the new fees for fire response will directly impact your insurance rates, driving them up. Combine that with the decrease in population and your home values will continue to decline. The spending by the Mayor and City Council - and the use of precious and limited tax dollars for non-essentials - impacts every single person in Toledo.

What are you willing to do about it?


Lisa Renee said...

Does the revenue listed include the amount that was supposed to be paid by Greater Toledo Aquatic Club?

I looked up the Ordinance:

ORD. 272-08
Authorizing the Mayor to enter into an agreement with the Greater Toledo Aquatic Club for the operation of Detwiler Pool during non public swim hours; said agreement shall contain terms and conditions deemed proper and requisite according to the Director of Law and the Mayor; and declaring an emergency.
The Greater Toledo Aquatic Club submitted an unsolicited proposal to the Department of Neighborhoods to lease its Detwiler Swimming Pool during non public swim hours. The Administration reviewed the proposal. The Department requests authorization to enter into an agreement with the Greater Toledo Aquatic Club to lease the City’s Detwiler Pool. Under the proposed agreement the City of Toledo will generate revenue and provide additional swimming opportunities.
But, I couldn't find one that stated what the terms of the lease was going to be as far as the revenue expected.

Maggie Thurber said...

Lisa - the revenue I cited is listed in the budget as a single line item (not broken down by individual pools) under 'city pools' in the revenue portion.

I don't know whether or not it includes the contract with GTAC.

Good question. Since their contract was for use during non-public hours, if that is included, then the pools were even more costly than I calculated.

If it isn't included, then my calculations are relatively accurate (based upon the stated assumptions).

Frank said...

I for one do not use or have used public pools. We have a small pool for my son to be able to play in during the hot days of summer. Of course, we also have a family membership to the YMCA to swim during the off-season and to use for various activities during the course of the year. While I don't have a high-paying job (since I work for a viewer supported ministry), we do budget accordingly to make this a priority for our family.
I have voiced my concern to every member of city council and the mayor about the need to eliminate unneeded funds like this to make sure we have the needed police protection for our city.

Maggie Thurber said...

Frank - as I grew up in Point Place, we had Detwiler Pool relatively close by. But I can recall only about 2 or 3 times throughout my whole childhood that we went.

Part of it was money - it cost more than a hose...and part because both my parents worked and you had to have an adult with you back then.

So, we had the hose, and a sprinkler, and - for a couple of summers - a small, cheap pool that was about 18" high. We kept it under the porch so it didn't turn green in the sunlight and while it wasn't very big, it was big enough to lounge in and stay cool.

The whole concept of families providing such things for themselves has, sadly, been replaced by a dependency upon government to give us things.

Very sad indeed...

Maggie Thurber said...

Lisa - there are four revenue line items for parks: swimming pools, other park & rec fees, interest and misc. I'm thinking that the lease to GTAC went into either the 'other' or 'misc' line items....

Lisa Renee said...

Maggie, thanks, I wasn't able to discover how much the lease was for, it's on my "list of things to ask about" -- I agree depending on the amount generated for the lease it may or may not impact the numbers for cost and revenue.

There was an economic development aspect to the GTAC using the pool, but I'm not sure how many meets ended up being scheduled to be able to determine what type of an impact it had on the community. I'm also not sure how long the lease/contract was for to know if the City committed Detwiler being open for use for GTAC for this next swimming season. It's not clear if it was a one year lease or longer from what I found in the City Journal. I thought there would be legislation for the lease, but I haven't had the time to search for it.

toledo1 said...

Great post - and all very sad, but true. My kids will be playing in the $6 sprinkler this summer and I have a feeling their quality of life will be just outstanding. Playing with their friends in the backyard all day, getting exercise, and using their imaginations - it is a wonder I don't get arrested for child abuse for not taking them to the city pool.

Maggie Thurber said...

...it is a wonder I don't get arrested for child abuse for not taking them to the city pool.PRICELESS!

Not to worry - I won't tell. LOL!

Black Swamp Road Geek said...

What am I willing to do?

Move to Indiana

Maggie Thurber said...

BSRG - you and a lot of other people, that's for sure!

Carol said...

In light of the current crisis impacting the taxpayers of Toledo it only makes sense to close the pools - ALL of them, and save the money.

I am really hacked (yet again) that my taxes are going to pay for a service that is 1)NON-essential, 2)targeted to a specific population, 3)creates yet another venue for vandalism and destruction, and 4)is being played out in the media as some sort of requirement to have a happy life.

When we were kids we played in the hose, ran in the sprinkler, used an old shower curtain as a slip & slide, squealed and laughed in the sun, chased each other in the yard, and made our own fun. We did not rely on the city to give it to us, we did not claim that our quality of life was diminished and use that for justification to show our butts in public.

Close the pools. Permanently. They are serving no positive purpose at this point, other than to give the administration a warm fuzzy about providing a NON-essential service that is costly on all fronts.

As for moving? Come on down! The weather is beautiful, the taxes are lower (there is a move afoot here in NC to lower the sales tax by .5%), the governments take an aggressive position to address budget issues and don't placate people with bogus 'feel good' media moments.

My properties up there are losing value like a sinking stone, the unemployment is unbelievable, and the city/county government is in a huge mess. But if they keep their heads in the sand long enough ... maybe that will all magically change. NOT.

C M Millen said...

Maggie, you skewed the statistics for Detwiler last year. First of all, the pool did not even open (due to theft of copper wiring) until late July, hence the attendance would be down. Second, the weather was a bit cooler than normal---only one or two 90 + days.
Third, yes GTAC did pay their lease and not only had swim and water polo practice out there, but Master's swimming and swim lessons which were excellent.
This year, there is a meet schedule and hundreds of swimmers from all over Ohio and Michigan will be coming, bringing revenue (they are all staying in downtown hotels) to Toledo. There will also be swim practice, swim lessons and Masters swimming.
With the high rate of drowning among central city children, it is imperative that low cost swim lessons be available. To join the Y is quite an expensive undertaking, especially when the economy is in dire straits. More importantly, there are NO Y's with pools left in the central city for people to join---the closest one is Bowman at Start High School or by the Zoo.
Yes, the City should keep one pool open and that pool should be Detwiler, an outstanding 50 meter facility where regional meets always used to be held.
You are short-sighted, I believe, to close it down. This is just as important as a preventative measure as any in the city, and provides so many benefits to all citizens.

Maggie Thurber said...

C M - I did not skew anything. The figures are the figures. If one pool didn't open until July, it doesn't change the fact that the city-operated swimming program lost money and doesn't serve even 2% of the population.

If there was profit from the GTAC, that profit came from when the pool was not opened to the public. While I don't discount the claimed 'economic development' of having a swim meet at a city operated pool, it just means that the city is in competition with other non-publicly funded locations. It's wrong for the city to provide at taxpayer cost a service that the private sector can provide.

As for inner city kids and their swimming skills? I guess I care more about their safety than their ability to swim - so I'll stand by my previously-stated priorities that police and other core functions of government come first.

I'm certainly not short-sighted because I insist upon government being limited. Your claim regarding the Ys forgets that Boys & Girls Clubs offer memberships to kids at much less cost than swimming at a Toledo pool. In fact, if you read my post from last year, you'd know exactly how many more kids could have been served had the city spent part of their pool money just buying those instead.

Bottom line, it's not government's function to teach kids how to swim. Nor is it a 'benefit' to all citizens. It's an unnecessary expense used to purchase support from a small constituency at the expense of all taxpayers.

In the end, when it comes down to it, keeping police on the streets and not opening the pools is the bigger benefit.

As a final note - if you're so convinced this is the right thing to do, then purchase some land, build a pool and you can do with it what you wish.

Don't think that's a good idea? Then why should government????

C M Millen said...

The purpose of government is to provide those services which individuals cannot provide for themselves; ie, an army, postal service, etc. Local government follows the same philosophy, but on a local scale; police, educational facilities, and yes, sports facilities. We have basketball, tennis courts and baseball diamonds, all paid for by the city. Interestingly, not all people can use those. If you are disabled, you can't play tennis or baseball? If you are elderly and weaker, you can't play basketball.
But EVERYONE can swim.
Not everyone can use the Boys & Girls Club or Catholic Club: they have their own programming, and no one can just show up, plop down a $1 and swim. In addition, their pools are very small, shallow and could hold may 50 people each.

In fact, Maggie, I do donate to a program which gives free swim lessons every Saturday: the Josh Project at St Francis de Sales HS pool. GTAC rents the pool from the Oblates and then working with Wanda Butts, they give lessons to anyone who wants to register for them. They have served hundreds of kids in the past two years, and they will serve kids out at Detwiler this summer.....if it's open. The St Francis pool is busy, of course, with their own activities, but it's great to be able to use this private pool for public purposes---and the taxpayers don't pay a dime. Kudos to the Oblates and GTAC!

The operation of pools is an expensive venture for any one person or private company to do, which is why it is crucial that all of our tax monies together should go to keep a great community pool open; one that we all, young or old, able-bodied or disabled, can use. This is well worth our money and should NOT be closed.

Maggie Thurber said...

CM - I can see that you are firm in your opinion, as am I.

However, you have a contradiction.

You wrote: "The purpose of government is to provide those services which individuals cannot provide for themselves;"Perhaps you've misunderstood this that government should provide what I - personally and by myself - cannot. That is not the intent of our Founders and they would be shocked to find that their ideas of such common needs like national defense have been skewed into justifying taxing everyone so that a few can learn how to swim.

People have provided mail services, they have provided pools, they have joined together to provide volunteer fire departments, in some subdivisions they maintain their own roads, they provide recreation. Just because I cannot do this by myself does not mean that I cannot obtain it from someone with the resources and interest that I don't have.

Just because it's a good thing to have, it does not mean that government should do it.

Side note: I've never said that swimming isn't good - or that kids shouldn't do it...just that it's not the role of government to make sure it happens - and as you point out, it IS being done in the community and if government didn't take from all to provide a limited service to a few, perhaps more people would have the financial means to provide this themselves.

Besides, even if you insist that providing access to pools is a legitimate government function, it does not compete with a higher priority of police. So, when faced with the budget deficit, this is a no-brainer. Police are more important than pools, so cut out the pool funding and make sure there are police on the streets.

Given the city's budget situation, you are surely NOT arguing for pools instead of police - are you?

C M Millen said...

Thank you for your respectful arguments.
From earliest times in our country, cities have been designed with public greens or parks with "bowling greens" or , later on, baseball diamonds, etc. for two reasons:
First, it was recognized that citizens could not (the difference is between would not and could not)provide these kinds of facilities on their own in the city. Second, such parklands and facilities provided areas of respite and beauty that ALL citizens could use and from which the city itself was made better and more attractive. Why does a city plant trees? Why does a city maintain parks? Surely people could have trees in their yard, etc. But by having many acres of trees, parkland, flower, and public recreational facilities, we are providing something which citizens are not able to provide for themselves, and making the city a better place.

A third, and a more recent argument has been realized: by providing outlets for recreational activity, crime levels are reduced in cities. While the effect may not be immediate, the long term effect is dramatic. In those urban areas where there are public recreational facilities of all kinds, crime is lower.

My dad was a fireman, and I do not know enough about the negotiations with the police and fire to propose alternatives at this point. But I will argue that it IS the job of a city to provide public recreational facilities and those facilities make a city a better, more beautiful AND a SAFER place to live.

And, I am a conservative "log cabin" Republican.....

Maggie Thurber said...

I reject the tired argument (that has yet to be proven) that government recreation programs for kids prevent crime. That's one of the most illogical leftist things ever, but seems to have 'mythic' proportions.

If a child is going to commit a crime, the availability of a pool is not going to change that. Nor is the reverse true. A child who isn't interested in committing a crime won't turn to crime simply because a city opened a pool.

The theory that has some validity is that if parents engage their children in activities, they won't have either the time nor the opportunity to get involved in the 'wrong' crowd. But that still doesn't mean that government must take on the role of the parent and do it for them.

I also notice you didn't answer the question: given a choice between government funding recreational programs versus police, what is the higher priority?

That's what it comes down to in Toledo.

Maggie Thurber said...

"History affords us many instances of the ruin of states, by the prosecution of measures ill suited to the temper and genius of their people. The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy... These measures never fail to create great and violent jealousies and animosities between the people favored and the people oppressed; whence a total separation of affections, interests, political obligations, and all manner of connections, by which the whole state is weakened."

--Benjamin Franklin
(emphasis added)

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