A committee of the Lexington Fayette Urban County Council heard Tuesday that the city’s golf courses and pools don’t pay for themselves, although use and revenues have increased at both in recent years.
Although it should go without saying, the role of government is not to make money, it is to serve the community’s interests, whether they be public safety, well-paved roads, sewer and trash service or affordable recreation opportunities.
Government, at every level, must also spend the money we pay as taxes responsibly and for the greatest benefit of the citizens it serves.
While efficiency and accountability are critical when examining public spending, it can’t be summed up in the profit-and-loss equations that govern private business.
For many public recreational assets, like parks and trails, we may know what it costs to maintain or build them but it is almost impossible to measure use. No one pays a fee and passes through a gate to enter any of our parks or trails — nor should they. For others, like pools, golf courses, riding lessons and other paid parks programs, it is easier to count use and income and compare it to costs.
That’s one of the challenges facing Lexington’s parks master plan set for completion around the end of this year.
Right now that plan is in the early stages that include collecting a lot of information like mapping all the park lands, making an inventory of facilities, collecting information on how much locations and programs are used, what they cost and, where appropriate, how much they collect.
To plan for the future, city parks director Monica Conrad and her boss, Commissioner of General Services Geoff Reed, said they will overlay all that with information about how our population has shifted and where future development is likely to occur.
And, then, they must also consider changing trends in recreation.
Pools that once were little more than a shallow and deep end with a couple of diving boards now include huge slides, pirate ships and other amenities. Splash pads — above-ground water parks that are much less costly than pools and usually don’t include admission fees — have also joined the water options.
A generation ago, hardly anyone talked about urban trails but now, Conrad said, trails are at the top of the public wish list for public recreational facilities.
Conrad, Reed and council members will soon learn more about those wishlists at a series of public engagement meetings — not yet scheduled — to hear what kind of public recreational opportunities residents want Lexington/Fayette County to provide.
The critical word is “public.”
There are private golf courses and pools, even private trails and parks; but public places to rest and recreate, where anyone in the community can afford to participate, are a critical element in any community’s quality of life.