Thursday, December 01, 2011

All the goals of the new Recreation District Steering Committee accomplished in a single blog post

Note: I had this post mostly finished yesterday morning when I suddenly lost access to the city of Toledo website. Since several points were dependent upon information on the website, including the budgets for the past several years, I delayed the post until I was able to gather the information.

This latest by the city definitely qualifies for 'stuck-on-stupid' status.

On Tuesday, Toledo City Council approved Ordinance 531-11 to establish a 19-member Recreation District Steering Committee. The purpose of the committee is to explore and identify recreational opportunities, especially for seniors and youth.

According to the legislation the committee will:

study issues related to the challenges facing our residents including seniors and youth in accessing affordable recreational opportunities and to determine how to maximize existing resources, develop partnerships, explore funding sources; and declaring an emergency.

Sounds pretty impressive, doesn't it? After all, certainly it is the role of Toledo City Council to "study" the "challenges" facing our residents in "accessing affordable" recreational opportunities.

I guess I didn't realize just how much difficulty people had in getting access to entertainment. Last I checked, a deck of cards was clearly "affordable."

According to the background section of the legislation:

This committee shall provide insight and recommendations to Toledo City Council on how to inform the community as to the current recreational programs, investigate how the City helps to deliver current recreational services, identify any overlap in current recreational opportunities, investigate how collaboration can better exist between private and public partnerships and what funding sources can be identified.

Yes, you read that correctly. The committee will provide "insight" to the council so council members will know how to inform the community about current recreational programs.

My head hurts just reading that.

Council members should already know what recreational programs the city runs (many of which they don't *need* to do, especially in light of the current fiscal issues) and if they don't know how to communicate with their constituents, they shouldn't be an elected representative in the first place. Why do they need a 19-member committee to provide such "insight* to them?!?

But, Maggie, you say, they're going to identify overlap in current recreational opportunities. Isn't eliminating duplication a good thing?

Actually, it doesn't require the elimination of duplication, it just charges the committee with identifying duplication. Do you really think Toledo City Council is actually going to eliminate something it is doing?!?

Besides, if you want to identify duplication, you don't need a committee to do so. Just make a public request to all in the area and ask them to let you know. I guarantee that if there is any city *recreational opportunity* that is being duplicated by a non-profit or private organization, the non-profit or private organization already knows about it.

Unlike government, such entities are usually quite familiar with their competition.

I'm not even involved in many such programs and I can identify duplication. How about the city's Easter egg hunts - though it's officially called EGG XTRAVAGANZA since they don't use the evil religious term "Easter." There are plenty of communities and churches and organizations that do an Easter celebration so there is no need for the city to duplicate it.

One many to go?

What about the Ottawa Park Ice Rink? That's in competition and duplicates what is already available from the private sector - and the private sector offers year-round availability.

What about Youth Baseball. Aren't there plenty of leagues already existing without the city running one? The city offers baseball and softball for adults as well - as if adults aren't perfectly capable of finding or forming their own baseball league. They also have youth and adult basketball, women's volleyball and hockey. Oh - and a punt/pass/kick event just for good measure.

Duplication identified.

Sports not your thing? Well, how about the summer concert series in Ottawa Park? It's not like we don't have plenty of musical entertain options in our fine city, including a world class symphony.

Another duplication identified.

Are you a senior? Look what's available:

The programs offered at Friendship Park Senior Center include oil painting, ceramics, cards, bingo, bunco, walking, travel, shuffleboard, ballroom and round dancing, and computer instruction.

And we even have a senior levy that funds the Area Office on Aging which provides such activities throughout the entire county.

But that's not all. Don't forget Pumpkinarama, Caroling in the Park, Pitch/Hit/Run, Fishing Rodeo, senior dances and Skating with Santa (though you can see Santa any number of places in the city - for free!).

In fact, I have a friend who is the perfect Santa. I'm sure he'd provide the service of 'Skating with Santa' without the involvement of the city.

All of this is available and it was easy to find on the city's very own website - all without a 19-member committee. There's also the Internet and that amazing search engine called Google, which, when queried for "recreational activities Toledo" responded with 117,000 entries in .21 seconds, most of them not government-sponsored.

So there are two of the committee goals (identifying recreational programs and overlaps) already met. See how easy that was? And I did it without forming a committee!

One of the other goals is to "investigate how the City helps to deliver current recreational services." Well, since we've already identified the programs and the fact that all of them either are or can be offered by the private sector, there is no need to investigate anything. The city should just eliminate their programs since they are duplicating what is or can be available in the area. There is no need to waste anyone's time investigating anything.

In fact, the next listed goal, "investigate how collaboration can better exist between private and public partnerships," is rendered moot by the previous one. If the city lets the private (including non-profit) sector address the recreational needs of the community, there is no need for collaboration between public and private partnerships.

Two more goals of the committee accomplished.

But then we get to the final goal - and the crux of the matter: "what funding sources can be identified."

You see, too many people think that individuals who choose not to afford certain types of recreation and entertainment options should still be able to participate - for free. This is why the city offers so many of the programs free of charge, though many do have costs associated with them (sports, skating, etc...).

And let me be clear about the fact that it is a choice, no matter how much you earn. People choose how to spend their money. If they wanted to afford entertainment/recreational programs, they'd make that a priority in their budgets. That they don't choose to do so does not mean that the city should ensure their participation in such programs at the expense of other taxpayers.

Any funding sources which might be available for recreational opportunities should not include any public funds, so there should be no need for involvement from government.

It is not the proper role of government to present 'opportunities' for recreation. The private sector is perfectly capable - and, in fact, more capable through the process of market demand - of identifying what wants/demands exist and of meeting them, in a much more efficient and effective manner than government.

But that won't stop politicians and bureaucrats from validating their existence through the offering and management of such programs - or certain community organizations from supporting the public funding of such activities so they could get some of the money for themselves in the form of grants.

Toledo's budget for the Department of Recreation has been as high as nearly $2 million for a single year. Seriously! Fortunately for the taxpayers, the amount has decreased since 2008. Here are the yearly expense amounts for this department:

* $1,879,935 in 2008
* $1,290,212 in 2009
* $1,176,759 in 2010
* $ 940,795 in 2011
* $ 621,055 in 2012 (budgeted)

Think about it ... since 2008 Toledo has spent nearly $6 million on recreation - at a time when it was facing massive deficits (roughly $10 million deficit in 2008, $12.7 million deficit in 2009, a 2010 deficit once estimated as high as $35.5 million, and a 2011 deficit estimated to be between $5-8 million).

During these years, the city asked for renewal of the temporary (since 1982) 3/4% payroll income tax as well as permission to divert money "as needed" from the Capital Improvement Plan budget (CIP) to balance the budget. They also threatened layoffs of police and fire if the tax wasn't passed.

This certainly begs the question: why was/is spending on recreation still being done when the city has massive deficits, asks for continued taxation, diverts precious funds from the CIP and threatens layoffs?!?

The budget for the Recreation Department includes wages, benefits, overtime, pension, auto allowance, continuing development (educational training or reimbursement for educational classes), operational supplies, misc. supplies and temporary services.

Are these really more important than police and fire - or road repair funded through CIP?

I believe most Toledoans, especially those who do not participate in any of the city's recreational programs, would say "no!"

So if you eliminate the funding for the department as clearly not a necessity in these economic times, you eliminate the need to address funding issues. This leaves the private and non-profit organizations responsible for their own funding and allows Toledo government to focus on more important things - like how they're going to actually live within OUR means.

Last goal accomplished - all in a single blog post!

But that's not all...

As if everything I've written wasn't enough, the ordinance establishing the committee was declared an emergency:

That this ordinance is hereby declared to be an emergency measure and shall take effect and be in force immediately from and after its passage. The reason for the emergency lies in the fact that same is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peach, health, safety and property, and for the further reason that it is necessary to immediately begin the process that will result in a plan for action for recreational opportunities for both seniors and youth in the City of Toledo.

Really? We have to form a committee for the "immediate preservation of the public peach (sic), health and safety and property"???

Will wonders never cease? Who knew recreational opportunities were so vital?

And don't forget that there will be costs associated with this committee. Staff time will have to be devoted to taking notes and sending out notices (which will probably include postage); the city may provide coffee or other food stuffs for the committee; there will be a report which will have to be compiled and printed; there may even be public meetings which will require other costs to be incurred.

So we're going to incur costs for a committee to do what I was able to accomplish in a single blog post.

This is probably why Toledo has such issues - because we spend time on things like this rather than on the critical problems we're facing. This definitely qualifies for 'stuck-on-stupid.'

1 comment:

Timothy W Higgins said...


Thanks for laying the situation out so concisely that even those of us not on the proposed committee can understand it. (BTW- That committee's function must also cost something in the way of taxpayer dollars, if for nothing other than office supplies and building utility use.)

Perhaps however, the Council is merely feeling the spirit of the season and attempting to find a few 'stocking stuffers' for those on their 'nice' list?

As one who might easily, like your 'perfect Santa', don the uniform and serve in such a position; my suggestion is that some of us form a union and file a grievance against the city for interference in the duties reserved for our membership alone (and of course the Big Man himself). We might not succeed, but being a union, we might at least garner some attention from those at One Government Center.

Ho Ho Ho

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