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St. Petersburg dog park is approved despite cost

ST. PETERSBURG — The City Council approved a dog park for Historic Kenwood on Thursday, despite complaints that the $188,412 price tag — more than six times the usual cost — is a waste of tax dollars.

"A dog park is not just for dogs. It's for the people. It's for the neighborhood," said council member Jim Kennedy. "We are creating a place for people to have recreation, to have that be in the neighborhood, to have that close to home."

Council members Wengay Newton and Bill Dudley, who cast the only votes against the park, said the project sends the wrong message to taxpayers.

"I'm having a hard time approving something when we have people who are really hurting," Dudley said. "I think there is a perception that in tough economic times, the city is not willing to tighten its belt."

Council member Jeff Danner had been trying for nearly three years to secure funding for the park, which will be under Interstate 275 at 20th Street N between Fifth and Fourth avenues. It will cost more than the usual dog park because the land, owned by the Department of Transportation, needs to be fenced and equipped with benches, trash bins and a parking lot. Most of the city's five dog parks have cost about $30,000 each.

The park will be financed from the city's Weeki Wachee Fund, which can be used only for recreation and beautification. More than $2.1-million from the fund has been allocated for skate parks and the like. The fund is made up of $14.4-million earned from the sale of a 440-acre recreation area in Hernando County in 2001, plus interest.

The park itself will cost $171,284, but the council must also set aside an extra $17,128, or 10 percent of the project, to cover 10 years of maintenance, according to how the fund must be used.

It's unclear how much that will be on top of the park's price tag.

Newton asked why the dog park couldn't be added to an existing park in Kenwood, which could significantly reduce the cost.

"This is not being a good steward of tax dollars, and I swore to do that," he said.

Danner said he considered other options, but this location made the most sense.

Council member Leslie Curran, who voted against the project in March because of the cost, said she ultimately decided to support the park because it would clean up an unsightly area and appease Kenwood residents.

"I see no reason not to go forward with this," she added. Curran then cast her vote of approval with a bark.

The project sparked debate about how the city invests the Weeki Wachee Fund. Interest earned on the $14.4-million fund pays for recreation projects. The principal cannot be used.

Since its inception, the fund has earned $3-million in interest, but it recently lost about $1.5-million, prompting concern that the council wasn't fully taking advantage of the fund or investing it properly. Council members said they will discuss the investment process.

Deputy Mayor Tish Elston said the loss was not significant.

"When we talk about loses, we are only talking about fluctuations over time," she said.

St. Petersburg dog park is approved despite cost 09/04/08 [Last modified: Saturday, September 6, 2008 4:21pm]
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