A pair of Zephyrhills teenagers just received a real-life civics lesson while simultaneously learning the core concept of Local Government 101: Bright ideas can be doomed by a dim bottom line. Last week, Zackari Wideman and Jacob Henderson, 16-year-old skateboarders, presented a petition to the Zephyrhills City Council seeking better conditions at the city skate park at Krusen Field. They would like a better design and concrete to replace the aging asphalt. They smartly emphasized safety as a top concern and their petition included 101 names.
Kudos to the teens and friend Cody Barrington for maneuvering through democracy. Sitting back and complaining from the sidelines would be the easy route, but the boys instead took the commendable position of petitioning their government.
Just one problem. The concrete comes with a $40,000 price tag. Grant dollars are hard to come by and the city keeps bumping the project from its capital work program in this era of declining government revenues from falling property values.
The council didn't exactly say no, but members more or less told the skaters to get their parents to pony up a few bucks and to seek private donations to help with the costs. Charging a modest user fee would be more appropriate. Asking kids to tackle a capital fundraising campaign is unreasonable.
Giving children an improved outlet for recreation shouldn't be discouraged. About 8.4 million Americans skateboard, according to a 2009 survey by the Sporting Goods Manufacturer Association, a decline from past years but still comparable to tackle football (8.9 million) in terms of participation. In Zephyrhills, the city reported more than 900 registered skaters on file, though not all are considered active.
The Krusen Field skate park, built jointly by the city and Pasco County, is the only county skate park east of Land O'Lakes. It is 12,000 square feet covered by 14 ramps and obstacles. Over the years the city has shut down the park when kids arrived without required helmets and three years ago some downtown merchants advocated a police confiscation of skateboards after children bypassed the park in favor of skateboarding in the Times Square area of Fifth Avenue. Cooler heads wisely prevailed.
As they should now. If deteriorating asphalt is a public hazard, the city must address it. And if a safety upgrade also can appease skaters while triggering greater use, the city should find a way to make it happen.
Wideman, Henderson and other skateboarders may be too young to vote, but their sincere efforts show they are too mature to ignore.