Jul 132011

Disc golf politics

By Danny Mayer

Here’s the skinny on the skinny budget, and how disc golf came to represent the evils of citizen entitlement run amok:

In April, Jim Gray proposed a $271 million city budget, which he described as a “businessman’s budget,” that represented a $10 million dollar reduction from the previous year. The budget called for eliminating 56 city jobs, an overall 10% reduction in funding to partner agencies (mostly social services and arts groups), and an overall reduction in the city workforce to 2,835 budgeted jobs—the lowest city workforce since 1999, when the city had 35,000 less residents.

In June, the city council sent Gray a revised budget. They restored much of the 10% reduction in funding to social service agencies, restored several of the city jobs cut by Gray, and added 25 police recruits. Council also proposed bonding (borrowing) $400,000 for the construction of 2 disc golf courses ($150,000) and a lacrosse complex ($150,000) on city owned parkland, and for handicap access at the Charles Young Center ($100,000). All told, the council budget restored $2.8 million, or 1% of the city’s general fund, a figure that still shaved $7 million off the previous year’s budget.

Gray went on the offensive, declaring that the council had challenged his pro-business solutions (outsourcing, right-sizing, cutting social services). The Herald Leader backed him up, accusing the council of lacking budget discipline. “This is the time,” its editorial admonished the council, “for belt tightening.”

Zeroing in on the money restored for the two disc golf courses, Gray’s message was simple: here we are going through a massive economic recession that has hit this city hard, and those out of touch council people are out securing $150,000 for people who play a park game that involves throwing frisbees around? The nerve of those out of touch politicians, wasting our money like that! The “hard realities” of the current economy meant, the Leader quoted Gray saying, that “it’s not the right timing to take on issues like Frisbee golf.”

When Gray vetoed three line items from the council budget earlier this month, here’s the headline from the Mayor’s office: “Mayor announces veto, including frisbee golf.” The press release highlights cuts to disc golf and lacrosse, though curiously, the likewise de-funded handicap entrance for senior citizens at the Charles Young Center gets mentioned only as “other capital projects.”

To date, the council, bombarded by outraged citizens who had read the coverage in the Herald Leader, have no interest in revisiting the topic of disc golf course construction.

The rest of the story

“A few years ago we approached Parks and Rec with the proposal of installing a course at Jacobson Park with the assistance of Councilman George Myers,” says Drew Smith, president of the Bluegrass Disc Golf Association (BDGA). “We helped to install Riverhill in his district and he was very interested in the idea that disc golf could help the city generate money through tourism. This was all on the heals of the Equestrian Games and the original intent was for Lexington to host a huge international disc golf tournament each year but in order to do this we simply needed more courses.”

Drew Smith is the person you should have read about in the Herald Leader. The current president of the Bluegrass Disc Golf Association (BDGA), Smith is frustrated by the way the media has allowed Gray to frame the story. Though he and other BDGA members have attended council meetings to voice support for the new courses, their perspectives have received scant focus in regional coverage.

This is interesting because Smith and members of the BDGA express a genuine desire to model the lofty rhetoric of non-mainstream, niche sports-tourism that the city’s backing of WEG promoted. As BDGA members began scouting out potential locations, Jacobson Park seemed like an easy choice. The park, which Kentucky American Corporation all but dumped on the city last year, contains untold un-used acreage.

“It’s low maintenance and we had the idea that the course would generate traffic in areas where they have been having problems with “Cruising” or picking up people for sex in the woods or bathrooms. This would help eliminate the seclusion factor,” says Smith, channeling his best Jane Jacobs. “For us there’s enough room to install a top of the line course bigger than Veterans or Shillito.”

Smith and the BDGA prepared three budget proposals, beginning at $25,000 and going to $50,000. But there was a catch. The city, which had seen how cheaply the Shilito and Riverhill courses had transformed under-used park space, asked BDGA to prepare a plan for Coldstream, too..“This came as a shock to us,” Smith recalled, “as we had originally only been bidding for one course and now it looked like we were possibly getting two.”

Coldstream was trickier. The south end, where the city wanted the course built, has no facilities. It would require the construction of an entrance road, parking and bathrooms. It would be more expensive, but even so, Smith claims that the estimate BDGA handed to Parks/Rec was much smaller than the $150,000 that ultimately made it onto the bond, closer to $100,000 for both parks. If the city had stuck with BDGA’s original request, just Jacobson, the price tag could have dropped as low as $25,000.

Keep these figures in mind.

*The cost to the city, bonded, for the inflated $150,000 price tag for two disc golf courses amounted to $30,000-$35,000 a year for 5 years.

*The cost to the city, bonded, for the expensive price tag of $50,000 for one disc golf course would have amounted to $10,000-$11,000 a year for 5 years.

Another economic development report

At the urging of Myers, the BDGA produced an economic development report on the Lexington Open, the group’s largest annual tournament, which played at Lexington’s Shilito and Veteran’s parks, and at Nicholasville’s RINY-B course. The document, prepared by former BDGA president Lewis Willian, was short and simple. It divided the 138 player field into different groupings in order to arrive at an average dollar amount each player spent in Lexington for the tournament. The number: a conservatively-arrived at $53 per player per day. (Dollar amounts take into account gas, lodging and food spent while in Lexington over the 2-day tournament.)

“That totals $14,640 that was spent locally (a VERY conservative estimate.) This does not take into account trips to Walmart for Sunday rain gear,” the report reads, “or stops at Hobbytown or Phillip Galls to buy extra discs, or movie tickets in the late afternoon, or shopping at Fayette Mall Friday and Saturday night…etc…”

“Interestingly,” the report concludes, “in April of this year, Bowling Green, KY hosted a tournament over 3 days for 458 players. [T]hey are able to do this because there are 9 18-hole courses within Bowling Green. Using the $53 figure above as a per-day cost, that 3-day event would have put approximately $73,000 into the Bowling Green economy.”

By way of conclusion

After a decade in operation, the Cardinal Valley Center closed its doors for good this past month, resulting in the layoff of four employees and the loss of what La Voz de KY, the newspaper covering Lexington’s Latin-American population, described as “an iconic center” for many of the city’s Latino communities, a victim of Lexington’s first round of austerity cuts. City council did not attempt to include Cardinal Valley in their unsuccessful attempt to restore funding to (mainly social service) partner agencies. Peggy Hanson, city council rep for the Cardinal Valley area, supported the closure. The Herald Leader ran one story, a Friday, June 3, 2011 article by Valerie Honeycutt Spears, which appeared in the City/Region section, A-3.

Writing in La Voz, Andres Cruz credited the center with having played “a decisive role for many families that later made Lexington their home. For many people that had just arrived to the city, the Cardinal Valley Center provided very important help and orientation.”

“Thanks to the Cardinal Valley Center,” Cruz observed, “other important institutions of our community were born. The Bluegrass Farm Worker Clinic (assisting more than five thousand people per year) and the Hispanic library, later the Village Library (which became the most visited library in the city), had their origins there. Moreover, in the Center many students, social service providers and activists had their first hand-to-hand contact and training to serve Latino immigrants in the Bluegrass. The Lexington Police Department had officers there as community volunteers and educators…”

The lost future of the Cardinal Valley Center is what we should have been discussing as a community when Jim Gray unveiled his get-tough, business-tight austerity budget to city council. The new census confirms what we already knew: Latinos are this city’s fastest growing demographic. Cutting the Center at Cardinal Valley, while at the same time loudly lobbying for expensive infrastructure upgrades to entice (certain) out-of towners to visit and relocate to the area, seems to strike a discordant tone. Message and (funded) action seem out of whack.

But alas, Lexington didn’t really want to have that discussion about which demographics are really valued in this city. Led by Mayor Gray, it instead got tough and hacked away at low cost, low impact leisure sports that enliven suburban city parks and seem to have at least some economic impact on the city. For his foot in the sand, this will not stand moment, Gray saved a grand total of $150,000 in a $271 million budget.

City leaders now preaching austerity take the line that borrowing money to pay for sports leisure is a waste of city money. While the line sounds good, it holds little more value than Tea Party rants about Obama’s “wreckless spending,” as if it were a new phenomenon.

Lexington is one year removed from the borrowed extravaganza known as the World Equestrian Games. Estimates range between 100 and 200 million dollars in federal, state and local funds. Gray’s concerns over $150,000 sports-tourism infrastructure seems a bit over-blown.

This is also the same Mayor who has spent $30,000 of his own money helping to fund a $300,000 study of Rupp Arena renovations. A cynical person might suspect that, having been tapped out after last year’s WEG infrastructure spree, Gray’s gone austerity to save up for the inevitable commitments of city money that will be required to (1) renovate Rupp, and (2) provide infrastructure for the newly formed Distillery District. You can lay good odds that Gray will take those economic impact reports seriously.

So remember these numbers: between $25,000 and $125,000. Use them, as comparison, when Gray hits the city up for a Rupp loan. Look for him to use the same sports/economy argument as Smith’s BDGA folk used. Except Gray will ask for untold millions, not tens of thousands, which will of course guarantee it gets funded.

Think big, spend big, be big, as the big business leaders always remind us.

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  2 Responses to “Gray’s mean hyzer”

  1. Thanks for your support for Cardinal valley office, I was one of the people that worked there. To me the reason they shut it down was, they were expanding the Youth Services program and didn’t have a place large enough so Cardinal Valley had to go to make room for Youth Services. There was no reason to cut us out. They did not judge us by job performance etc just by an address. So four of us were dumped on the wasteside. Not just that wqe had to suffer the indifference of knowing in April we may be losing our jobs but told we had to wait til June 23rd until the council had a second readingof the budget proposal, it was very hard to work and still give the job our all but the four of us managed. I feel it is a pity the the Social Services Commissioner did not fight for us to keep our jobs, but the story is she did not.

  2. So That’s all about the Charles Young Center?
    A lot of nice info and well worded regarding Frisbee golf. However not much Difference between “other capital projects.” and the amount of space writer gave to Charles Young Center ” the likewise de-funded handicap entrance for senior citizens at the Charles Young Center gets mentioned ” … hmmm

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