“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”
― White Queen to Alice, Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll
When we were young, my brothers, our friends, and I would spend many a summer day at Garfield Park, in Garfield Heights, Ohio. The park contained ball fields, creeks, trails, dense wooded areas, picnic grounds, and a basic but rather large public pool. Although the park was several miles from our homes in Cleveland, that didn’t stop us from walking or riding our bikes there on a nearly daily basis.
Mill Creek ran through the park and eventually found its way through much of southeast Cleveland. The creek even included a waterfall. The falls emptied into a gully that once saw some industrial use many years ago, even a mill as far back as 1799. The waterfall is only 48 feet tall, but to us it was a thousand.
At one location in the park, there stood an old, run-down concrete building overgrown with vegetation — to us not unlike some ancient Roman ruin. I learned later this was a boathouse that rented paddle boats to use on a nearby pond at a time when women carried parasols and men wouldn’t leave the house without suits and ties. Courting was more formal then.
The swimming pool had a chain link fence dividing the shallow and deep sections. For many years I jealously looked over at the “big kids” in the deep end and wished for the day when I could join them. That day occurred sooner than I had planned when my older brother decided I was ready for the 8-foot water and pushed me in. Twenty years later, while living in Panama City, Florida, I would be scuba diving regularly in the Gulf of Mexico.
The adventures we had at Garfield Park and connecting areas were limited only by our imaginations and dinner time. But over the years, the park fell into disarray. The pool was closed and most aspects of its existence were removed. The park roads became so full of potholes that signs were posted warning motorists not to travel down them. The park became “creepy,” a place mothers warned their children to stay away from.
As children, worries concerning park politics and operating costs never entered our minds. But that was then, this is now.
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The City of Beavercreek, Ohio, is facing another financial crisis. Sometime in the next year or two, it will begin running an annual deficit of $1M or more in their general fund. To address that deficit, council has decided to put a parks levy on the ballot (this will also cover the senior center). Currently, these services are paid for out of the general fund, which in turn is funded from a variety of fees, grants, and other local and state tax sources.
City officials keep reminding us of how “lean and mean” the city is being run. Although true, no government ever operates lean and mean out of the goodness of their civil service hearts. They operate lean and mean when taxpayers force them to a monetary diet. That’s why last year voters rejected the fourth attempt at a city income tax that would have given council, in practical terms, unlimited spending authority and more opportunities to waste money.
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The real cause of the $1M deficit is not lack of money but the city golf course, which has been annually draining nearly $1M in tax revenue out of the general fund. Many on this and previous councils have publicly bemoaned the golf course and opined on how they all wished it wasn’t there. However, the majority shedding those crocodile tears would have voted for the golf course if they had been on the original 1993 council because many council members are members of the “political class.”
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Members of the political class don’t respect the proper functions of government or the limitations in their authority. They would rather go about getting feathers in their caps than managing legitimate and limited infrastructure needs. The nearby city of Huber Heights, which had the opportunity to learn from Beavercreek, built a music center that is causing the city to reach into its reserves to balance its budget (the city has both an income tax and property taxes). Huber Heights’ council, as Beavercreek’s council, were too busy looking for feathers to put in their caps instead of noticing that music centers and golf courses were in ample supply in the surrounding communities.
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As in their recent income tax attempts, Beavercreek City Council is once again trying to hide the Beast with 18 Holes — this time by freeing general fund money currently used to subsidize the golf course by creating the new park levy. The political class knows that nobody follows the spending from the general fund and that this shell game should solve the city’s budget problem. Of course, it never does. Money shell games only allow future spending abuses.
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Nevertheless, you can be sure that this fall we will begin to hear the calls to fund a parks levy “for the children.” That means they want us to ignore the taxes that go to help subsidize people wearing ugly plaid pants and riding golf carts.
I believe parks are a proper object of government as long as they serve the common good, do not provide a service that can easily be offered commercially, or are not in ample supply nearby. I also want the next generation to have fond memories of their childhood and communities similar to ones I hold dear. But when it comes to past corruption, the political class uses the same logic as the White Queen did with Alice; making you feel guilty for even thinking about the past. If the levy is defeated, the political class will blame greedy voters who don’t care about the children. But little will be said about those who squander the public trust and treasury and are the real memory thieves.
Tony Corvo is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with a Ph.D. in physics. He is active in local Beavercreek, Ohio politics and is the author of All Politics is Loco: Musings from the Conservative Next Door. He and his wife have two grown daughters. He writes extensively on local issues. Many of his recent articles can be found at taxbusters.wordpress.com/author/phdmc2.
All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.