Game of Thrones: Bathrooms Take Center Stage at Council Meetings as Budget Woes Continue

blogimage.jpgWhile the battles for the kingdoms of Westeros play out on HBO and in the prose of author George R. R. Martin’s novels, an entirely different group of prima donnas – more local and certainly more real than Mr. Martin’s characters – have been fighting it out over thrones of a decidedly more porcelain nature here in Richmond.

The city of Richmond’s ever-worsening battles with debt and over-spending are no secret in the community.  The city manager and his staff have put out several reports and announcements about the city’s financial straits and the Richmond City Council meetings are rife with references to the problem.  Citizens might find it curious then that, in an era in which the city’s essential departments (e.g., the police force) are being asked to make deep cuts to their operating allocations, the City Council recently approved nearly $400,000 for contracts to build restrooms.

At the May 6meeting of the City Council, one of the few items that the councilmembers were able to agree upon after hours of argument about the proposed minimum wage ordinance was a resolution to fund a restroom demolition and construction project at Marina Bay Park.

The agenda item gave one contractor approval to build a $166,778.54 bathroom facility at Marina Bay Park only after another contractor is paid $205,359 to demolish the existing structure and prepare the site for the new lavatories.

This project was approved at the May 6meeting, but it is the type of agenda item that elicits a certain amount of controversy in the Richmond community, not just because of the sums of money involved, but also because of what some citizens perceive as favoritism for the wealthier parts of Richmond. 

Marina Bay Park is located in the relatively affluent neighborhood of Marina Bay.  Some speakers at subsequent Council meetings have pointed to a pattern of funding for the parks in wealthy areas while parks like JFK Park, located in the less wealthy neighborhoods of south Richmond, have received no money for public bathroom facilities.

At the May 13 meeting, the Council approved additional restroom-related contracts to the tune of over $120,000 over the next two years (or $60,000 per year) for cleaning services at current park facilities and for the use of temporary facilities on an “as-needed” basis to two other contractors.

All told, the Council has allocated funding totaling $492,000 for bathrooms in the last two meetings.

Regardless of any perceived motivations or biases, everyone seems to agree that $372,000 is a lot of money for a bathroom and $120,000 for cleaning them is also a big hunk of change, especially when the city is staring down the barrel of a $7 million deficit for 2013-2014 alone ($490,000 would constitute nearly seven percent of the deficit itself).

The city of Richmond has found itself in financial turmoil and is struggling to dig itself out.  While the police department and other groups are being asked to cut deep and cut now, the City Council seems unsure as to how to best utilize the few funds that remain.

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