Monday, March 9, 2009
7 News Investigations: Down the Drain
With the economy in trouble and governments making cuts across the board, questions are being raised about some big spending on water fountains for a very pricey public park. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero has this special assignment report, Down the Drain.
WSVN -- Central Broward Regional Park is quite the project. The new one 110-acre park has already cost the County $70 million, and that figure is expected to go up.
This fountain is in another park, but the County is about to buy two like it for the Central Broward Park at a cost of $248,000.
Bob Harbin: "But I do think that that does bring a calming effect, especially with people that are having emotional problems to get a little solitude and get away from it all."
Parks Chief Bob Harbin says the fountains will also help circulate the water in the new park's lake, which will encourage the fish and plants to grow. However, the money is being spent at a time when the Parks Department budget has been cut $4 million, and 78 jobs have been eliminated. Some parks are even closing one day a week to save money.
James Miller: "Well, good for them. I hope it's a really nice fountain."
James Miller is not pleased about how the Parks Department is managing its money. He rides his mountain bike at Quiet Waters Park, one of the facilities that is now being closed every Tuesday.
James Miller: "If you're closing parks, and you're building fountains, then I think there's something screwed up with the priorities. What's important and what's not important?"
The parks director says he's trying to cut costs. Fountains in the parks, including the new ones, will not run all the time, only during prime times in order to save money.
Carmel Cafiero: "So you consider this a quarter of a million dollars well spent?"
Bob Harbin: "Well, the way you phrase it is probably a little difficult when you say 'well spent,' but I do think it adds a feature to the park without it."
Carmel Cafiero: "Then there's this, another feature at the new park. It's called 'Whirls and Swirls,' a vortex on water. The County paid $385,000 for it."
Mary Becht: "Well, art is for the long term, and these projects were budgeted in the year 2000, when things were looking quite positively."
Mary Becht is Broward's Cultural Director. She points out the sculpture was fabricated here and provided jobs for South Floridians. Despite the sad state of the economy, she thinks art is a necessity.
Mary Becht: "We need it now more than ever because people need to have an uplifted spirit and a sense of hope and art provides that."
But critics like James Miller would argue an open park would do much more to lift their spirits. As far as he's concerned, it's money down the drain.
James Miller: "In times like today, you need to provide the basics and having the park open is a basic. Having a fountain and a sculpture is nice, but it's not a basic service."
The figures aren't in yet for next year's budget, but the Parks Department expects it will be asked to manage with less money, and with that happening throughout the economy, officials at every level can expect more scrutiny to make sure public money is not being poured Down the Drain.