Skate park failure should be privatization wake up call

Published February 22 2012
Updated February 22 2012

The rush to dump Hernando County government services onto the private sector just fell off the half-pipe. Last week, the county had to resume control of the Stewy's Skate Park/Pioneer Park when a private group, undermined by intramural squabbling, didn't maintain its required insurance. The failure of the private entity to fulfill its partnership with the county is a significant disappointment. Commissioners had begun to rely upon community groups to help operate and maintain specific parks as a cost savings.

So far, the county has reported no other problems with these private agreements. That's fortunate because of the promised financial commitments. The Brooksville United Soccer and Hernando Youth League ponied up $6,000 and hired licensed contractors to build soccer fields at Ernie Wever Youth Park. Likewise, the Hernando Youth League said it would pay $25,000 a year for five years to help cover maintenance costs at the park where 1,200 kids play sports.

Still, the skate park takeover came just a week after commissioners indicated no willingness to consider additional park user fees, property tax increases or other new revenues to help fill a projected $2.5 million shortfall in the next fiscal year. Commissioners may have to rethink that hard-line stance if they want to maintain services at all county parks.

Coincidentally, the county took back Stewy's Skate Park the same week it heard from another private group, Chapter 67 of the Disabled American Veterans, that said it could provide better services to veterans at a lower cost than the county. The collapse of the park agreement should serve as a warning to commissioners to scrutinize closely the private-sector promises of bettering county services.

When something sounds too good to be true, it often is. In this case, the DAV promised to serve more clients than the county by tapping $10-per-hour workers and volunteers to help veterans obtain their deserved benefits. It brought an immediate rebuke from the county's Veterans Services officer who said the private group used inaccurate data to devise a projected annual savings of $45,500. Besides, as Commissioner Wayne Dukes correctly pointed out, the county can't simply hand over a contract for services without seeking proposals from other interested parties.

Commissioners should study the veterans plan with a view from atop the skate park ramp. The last thing the county will want to do is take back a vital service to area veterans less than halfway through the fiscal year because of internal bickering and broken promises.