Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Grand Rapids Budget Cuts Get Ridiculous

Today it became clear to me that the City's management team hasn't a clue. As I mentioned earlier, I'm the tennis coach at a local high school. Now that our season has started, we are spending a lot of time at the local park where our home courts are located. The fall tennis season here in Michigan is very short however and even though we're only two weeks into the season, we only have 20 more days of competition or practice at our courts.

Unfortunately, we do not have any access to restrooms, even though there are facilities there onsite. It seems that the GR Parks and Rec Dept.'s budget has gone dry and they no longer can afford to keep the restrooms open so that we, the taxpaying public, have somewhere nearby to answer nature's call. For right now, I'm forced to tell my team and our opponents to use the nearby fastfood restaurant's restrooms. Luckily we've been rained out twice, but starting next week I'll be hosting at least one and sometimes as many as three matches a week.

It's not just my tennis team that's affected. Already I have seen Hope Network vans come by and unload their charges, only to discover that the restrooms are locked. Instead of a fun day at the park, they apparently have no choice but to reload the vans and look elsewhere. Every day we've had morning practice, I've seen the swings and slides full of young families with babies and toddlers - they've been forced to go without as well.

I've been told by Tom Zelinski, the head of Parks and Rec's maintenance, that keeping a restroom open "for the season costs approximately $1200." That is for the water bill alone, the cleaning services cost the city more on top of that. He offered to see if his budget had room for a Port-A-Potty but wasn't sure he'd be able to come up with that even. According to an email my athletic director sent me on Tuesday, he no longer has the budget for that luxury (cost = $60/month), but he could give us the number to a business that'd rent one to us if we wanted to pay ourselves.

I have emailed the Second Ward Commissioners plus the City Manager, Comptroller and Treasurer, trying to get some help from downtown. I received a call from First Ward Commissioner Jendrasiak Tuesday afternoon, again offering a Port-A-Potty. I politely turned him down, reasoning that it'd be unlikely that the girls would be much interested in using it and the City would just be wasting money. He promised to look into this further, said he had raised the subject at the City Commission meeting and would ask the management at the Parks Dept. to see if there was anything that could be done.

The most mindboggling, utterly astounding thing I've learned: while the City does not have the wherewithal to open these restrooms for 20 more afternoons (I've even offered to sign out a key and open them only when someone requests access, plus clean them myself), according to Commissioner Jendrasiak, the City has just approved another $50,000 study. I wish I could report just what he told me the study will delve into but my brain was too busy trying to grasp how a city that can't afford to let 16 and 17 year old girls flush the toilet 40 or 50 more times this fall can afford $50,000 for a study probably no one will ever read outside some overpaid, underworked bureaucrats. From looking at the Commission meeting agenda for Tues. Aug. 30, I think it's probably Resolution Four, under the Committee of the Whole, "authorizing the engagement of Lean Concepts, LLC for the purpose of implementing Administrative Lean practices."

I'm no highly paid business consultant, but here's my free advice to the City regarding Lean Administrative practices: Slash the bloated administrative staff downtown, stop loading more public safety work onto fewer firefighter's shoulders, privatize anything that can be and KEEP THE RESTROOMS OPEN FOR THE KIDS.

Should you want to make your views known, your Commissioner's email addresses can all be found at this City website.


Anonymous Bill Tingley said...


A nice piece of reporting. It's typical of the City government to make the taxpayers and residents pay for the bureaucrats' folly. Can I link to your story in the Local Area Watch?


August 31, 2005 12:45 PM  

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