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Parks will compete with police, fire for funding

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Posted at 12:42 AM, Dec 01, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-01 00:42:39-05

CINCINNATI -- It was definitely a slide show with a purpose.

Cincinnati City Council’s Neighborhoods Committee invited city parks director Willie Carden to a meeting Monday to learn about the parks’ future in the wake of a failed levy campaign in November.

Carden brought a slide show of fallen trees, a busted park slide and a smashed toilet inside a vandalized park bathroom. He wondered how many of the 67 miles of trails must be closed because the city couldn’t afford to maintain them. And he worried that if the Asian beetle came here, it would decimate park trees.

“We’ll just have rose bushes all over the place I guess,” he said.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed property tax that would have funded future city parks projects with roughly $5.5 million each year. The proposal to amend the city’s charter to add a one-mill property tax — which would have cost the owner of a $100,000 home roughly $35 per year — divided city and business leaders.

Roughly a month after the election, Carden is now turning to City Council for extra money for basic park needs such as fixing bathrooms and clearing trails. Without more funding, by 2025, the parks department is facing $70 million in deferred maintenance, he said.

“Basic maintenance is the priority,” Carden said. “We’re not building anything. I’m just fixing what we have.”

By the end of his 90-minute presentation, one of the main critics of the parks levy, Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, said her office was drafting a motion to give the parks department $4 million annually for maintenance, which is what Carden said was necessary.

“We just need to make sure that $4 million is met,” she said.

Vice Mayor David Mann chuckled, and said, “I hope we can; there’s a lot of demands.”

Mann had supported the tax levy and challenged the council members who publicly opposed it to propose other ideas for funding park projects.

This was echoed by Councilman Kevin Flynn, who warned that parks will now be competing against the pressing needs of police and fire departments – such as an overcrowded District 5 police station and fire stations so old that they lack women’s bathrooms.

“It’s difficult when you compete against aging police cruisers,” he said. “As good of a case as you make, you’ve got tough competition.”

But Councilman Wendell Young, who also opposed the levy, said it was council’s job to find the money for all of these needs.

“We need to find a way to get it all done because that’s our job,”  Young said.