Thursday, October 7, 2004

Theft, litter, closed toilets; still they stay

Click here to e-mail Peter Bronson
If Cincinnati and Hamilton County keep leaking population to the suburbs, we might need a sign on Interstate 75: "Last one out, please turn out the lights." And the last one out will be Robert Walther.

"We have endured physical attacks on our children, including gang assault and theft in broad daylight at McDonald's," he wrote in an e-mail, "but we are not leaving.

"We have endured break-ins and thefts, but we are not leaving. We have endured tire slashings and litter in our yard, but we are not leaving. We are taxed to the breaking point, but we are not leaving.

A crack addict stalked his 17-year-old daughter in 2002, followed her home, broke into their house and attacked her, he said. "But we are not leaving."

Walther says his house is now a fortress, but he's staying put. "Why are we not leaving? Because I want things to get better for all people."

His latest visit from City Hall's Un-Welcome Wagon is strangers using his yard as a public toilet, because the city has closed the restrooms in Eden Park across the street.

Normally, park restrooms are open until at least Nov. 1, said Marijane Klug, parks board manager of financial services.

But the city is $11 million in the hole. Fire stations are having "brownouts" of low manpower. A police recruit class has been postponed. And nearly unnoticed behind those headlines, the parks board is being asked to cut 5 percent to 10 percent in 2005, and another 2.6 percent in 2006.

The worst case could be a $587,700 loss, Klug said. And that could mean park restrooms won't reopen next spring.

Forty seasonal workers, who usually stay until Nov. 15, were laid off Sept. 1, to make up a $216,000 shortfall, Klug said.

Weekly mowing has been rolled back to every 14 or 30 days, Klug said. Daily litter pickup is now every two or three days or once a week. And safety has declined because park workers are not there to report crimes or check playground equipment.

"We've had complaints daily, especially about the restrooms," Klug said. "The weather has been beautiful."

That means lots of people are still using the parks - and using the woods or someone's yard for a rest stop. Considering what could be hidden in the grass, letting it grow is probably a good idea.

"It's a huge quality of life issue," Klug said.

And it's more crabgrass in Cincinnati's front yard. The city's 120 parks, with 5,000 acres, have been rated among best in the nation, Klug said. But that's in jeopardy.

"It's a disturbing trend," said Craig Gustafson of the Ault Park Advisory Board. Ault was neglected and nearly closed in the 1970s, until volunteers saved it, he said. "With the city's eroding tax base, we know they have to find places to cut. But parks have always been such a beautiful part of Cincinnati. This will hurt the city's image more."

Washington Park, opened in 1860, is one of the oldest in the city. Homeless guys drape over the benches like wet clothes left out to dry. Drug dealers lounge on the steps of the gazebo. But the park was kept clean by two full-time workers - until Sept. 1.

I walked through on Tuesday and counted more than 60 empty bottles twisted in brown paper bags. The broken glass, food wrappers and cigarette butts were harder to count than fallen leaves.

If this is a preview of city parks next year, Cincinnati might be closing a lot more than restrooms.


E-mail or call 768-8301.

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