Monday, February 23, 2009

City's Parks Rot: It's A Question Of Priorities

Indianapolis' Capital Improvement Board spends tens of millions annually maintaining the Indiana Convention Center, Lucas Oil Stadium, Victory Field and Conseco Fieldhouse, but when it comes to maintaining our city's parks, the City makes our parks department scrimp by on a $3.5 million a year budget to maintain and improve them. The CIB's Barney Levengood calls it a big sacrifice if Conseco Fieldhouse will have to make do for another year without a new ramp or put a hold on replacing carpeting in the convention center. The parks department can't even fix leaks in swimming pools. Instead, it spends $387,000 a year to refill water to replace the lost water. The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy discussed the problem:

In recent years, Colvin's job with Indy Parks has been to stretch $3.5 million dedicated to maintenance and capital improvements as far as it can go each year.

The reality, he said, is that he's had to use most of the money to react to emergencies such as leaky roofs and dangerous playgrounds.

Indy Parks Director Stuart Lowry and his staff came up with a comprehensive project backlog list after touring and evaluating nearly 200 properties last year. The $100 million figure includes $9 million for dozens of playgrounds where the equipment is years beyond the point at which it would typically be replaced.

Pools are also a problem. Bethel Pool lost 100,000 gallons of water a day last summer, about half of what it takes to fill the pool. Instead of fixing its leaky pipes and water-cleaning system, Indy Parks installed a $63,000 pool liner that only addresses a small part of the problem.

The city's inability to address such problems often leads to waste.

For example, it costs taxpayers $87,000 to fill 15 outdoor pools at the start of each summer, but an additional $387,000 to refill what leaks out.

"Typically, what we do is Band-Aids with little projects," Lowry said.

The parks department is already facing a $3.7 million operating budget this year according to O'Shaughnessy's report. What is the Ballard administration's answer to this problem? "The Indy Parks board recently approved a slew of new fees, including increases of $1 for admission to some pools and to Eagle Creek Beach," O'Shaughnessy writes. Any surprise here? The burden always falls on the little people. With any luck, some of the much-needed projects will be addressed with the millions the City expects to receive from the federal stimulus plan.

Meanwhile, the Ballard administration is conducting secret talks with state legislators to get state authority to raise a slew of new taxes on tickets, food and beverage, diversions of tax revenues from other government services, etc. to raise another $37 million (or take your pick of what the number is on any given day) in order to continue the taxpayers' one-sided obligation to maintain and operate the sports palaces from which the billionaire sports team owners get to keep all of the revenues generated.

To be fair to Ballard, his administration inherited the nearly $100 million backlog in repairs and improvements to the City's parks from Bart Peterson, who always chose funding of new sports stadiums and public subsidies for private development within the City's downtown over the City's parks. As I recall, he knocked off several weeks from the summer season for the operation of the pools at the City's parks to save money. It is clear that Ballard's approach is to continue the tradition of helping the most well-off among us to the detriment of those of modest or low-income means. After all, those elites wouldn't be caught dead in our city parks. Why do they care what they look like or whether they are functioning as intended.
Cartoon by Star editorial cartoonist Gary Varvel.

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