Out of sight, out of mind.

There’s really no simpler way to describe the current attitude the Gateway Services District has towards its Dog Park amenity.

Or maybe the better cliché to use would be location, location, location.

Because if the Dog Park was located where Gateway residents would actually see it every day, the entire community would be demanding answers as to how and why the district has allowed the Dog Park to deteriorate to its current conditions. Not just the people who pay money to use it.

Some of the blame certainly lands on the shoulders of Hurricane Irma, which damaged trees, the fence and even the ground itself.

To the GSCDD’s credit, the fence has been repaired and the damaged trees were removed. However the ground remains a problem and is the main concern for the Gateway residents who bring their four-legged friends to play and excercise at the park.

But there’s good news on that front.

As part of the fiscal year 2018 budget, the Board of Supervisors approved for the Dog Park to be re-sodded. FY2018 ends on September 30, 2018 meaning the district still has about 5 months left to complete the project. We have also heard that the district has spent at least some time researching the best grass or turf to use in a dog park, so maybe there will be some movement on that front in the near future.

You may be wondering how many people even use the Dog Park?

In fiscal 2016 (the year for which the most recent numbers are available) the Dog Park generated $3,892 in revenue, while the cost to operate it was $3,814.

In FY2015, the revenues were $3,579 and expenses were only $1,486.

FY2014 revenues: $3,250… Expenses: $2,128.

The official figures for FY2017 have not yet been published that we have seen. But based on these figures and the $25/year cost, we believe that approximately 100-200 families use the Dog Park on a regular basis each year.

And this is not to say that the Dog Park is an amenity that is somehow profitable. Because it’s not. Every few years the district must outlay a (comparatively) large amount of money, such as the planned sod replacement in 2018 which could cost up to $20,000. That would obviously wipe out all of the profits from 2014-2016, and more.

But still, it’s not as if the Dog Park is a massive drain on district resources. And it does seem to be a park that’s used consistently, year after year. Lee County operates several dog parks as well, so it’s not abnormal for a government agency to operate this type of amenity.

The GSCDD’s customers do have a couple of concerns though.

First, as previously mentioned, with the ground looking the way it does your dog will be a muddy mess with even the slightest bit of rain.

Second, if the park is allowed to continue to deteriorate without the promised improvements, less and less people will be inclined to shell out money for access; which leads to …

Third, the GSCDD staff’s attitude toward the Dog Park and the residents who use it is unacceptable. One Gateway resident told me that when they complained to the district staff about the condition of the park, the staff member threatened that if the complaints kept coming they would just shut the Dog Park down. (That would be a Board-level decision, not the staff’s call to make. And the Supervisors have made no such statements that I have heard.)

Clearly there is some frustration among the district staff in regards to the Dog Park. Indeed, when the Sun attempted to have a short conversation with district staff about it, they refused to talk to us and instead told us that if we wanted any information about the Dog Park to file public records requests.

At the end of the day, the Dog Park is someone’s specific responsibility. There is a staff member whose job it is to make sure the park is properly maintained. And that job is clearly not being done.

Moreover, there are 5 elected officials whose job it is to oversee the entire district. And in this case, that job isn’t being done either.

So if you’re one of those five people, you need to take 2 minutes before the next Board of Supervisors meeting and visit the Dog Park to take a look at its current state.

Then ask yourself if that’s how the GSCDD is supposed to take care of its assets.

When I spoke with the dog park customers who are upset about all this, I shared my opinion that the largest problem the GSCDD has is a lack of staff. And that lack of man-power has trickled down to the Dog Park, which is low on the totem pole when it comes to the district’s priorities.

But at the same time, there are some people directly associated with the district have a disdain toward all of the amenities.

The GSCDD needs to understand that while water, sewers and landscaping are the core functions, the amenities are what the residents are actually passionate about. Everybody knows that the water and sewer systems will function properly or else a higher government entity will toss the GSCDD out of the facilities and assume control.

So nobody worries about that stuff, because someone will intervene and save the day if the GSCDD is negligent.

But nobody is going to come along and force the GSCDD to repair the dog park or maintain a soccer field. So those are the things that get people anxious and in some cases angry.

One Supervisor has told me several times that the GSCDD has an image and PR problem. Well if you want to improve relations with the community, then one cheap and easy way would be to start caring (or at least pretend to care) about what the residents care about — rather than threatening people when they complain.

Editor of the Gateway Sun and owner of restaurant delivery service Florida Food Runner.

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