March 22, 2012 News » Long Story Short

Long story short 

In February 2010, I wrote a cover story called "What we'll lose." The gist was this: Community centers, an incredibly valuable part of our city, were facing closure because of budget cuts.

For the past two years, people have rallied to keep them open. Two centers have undergone transformations, through public-private partnerships. So too have city pools, and dozens of other assets like the gas that powers city vehicles, or the plows that clear snow from our roads.

More and more, partnerships are becoming the preferred approach to providing city services (see cover story starting here). Politicians say it supports the private sector, which could use the help. They say it saves money, a priority given the depressing economic forecast Mayor Steve Bach trots out every time someone questions cutbacks.

But does privatizing city services really work? Sometimes. But not always. Just ask Kevin Dessart, the guy who originally stepped up to take over three city pools.

After he fell behind on payments, the city voided his contract, leaving him with debt and no large source of income to cover it. Since then, he's watched the city turn over the pools to a larger competitor, the YMCA. And while Dessart wasn't offered any subsidy, the Y will get a fat one.

"The biggest issue is, we took all the risk," Dessart says. "Where was the Y two years ago, when the city was shutting down all its pools?"

Such are the breaks when the city's run like a business.


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