Once they hung the posters for this afternoon's big announcement at City Hall, the suspense was pretty well killed. My money was on a Batman to slash the cost of crime-fighting, but it turns out the hype was over the new Oncor-sponsored Mayor's Youth Fitness Initiative.
As for how this announcement would help ease our situation, Mayor Tom Leppert answered that one straight off: Oncor's latest P.R. coup includes a million-dollar donation to seed the initiative with cash to keep the lights on at recreation centers around the city.
"All of the assets we have in our Parks and Rec Department are literally jewels," Leppert said, and Leppert said Oncor's handout brings funding for the rec centers "pretty close back to status quo" while he and the council continue batting around other proposed cuts and, maybe, a tax hike to shore up the budget.
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Oncor CEO Bob Shapard added that he wasn't just interested in a one-off donation. He said the company would be part of this initiative for the long haul, right down to the Oncor staff who'd be volunteering at races and otherwise helping to promote fitness. "The primary reason we were attracted was because the mayor had a long-term vision in mind," Shapard said. "We're not pushing a budget gap from this year to next year."
Beyond just keeping the rec centers open a little longer, Leppert said the initiative was about drawing in companies and nonprofits to help cover the cost of public pools and bike trails. "An important part of this is Bob stepping out and saying he will help recruit other organizations," Leppert said. Leppert nodded at new Park and Recreation Board president Mike Rawlings, who he said he picked for the job to promote public-private partnerships like this. "What what we have to do is find different models," Leppert said. "It's a short-term challenge turned into a long-term opportunity."
Leppert hinted at more contributions like this to come, and said Shapard would be on a new steering committee to help grow the youth fitness initiative with a focus on childhood obesity, youth fitness and nutrition. Rawlings added that would mean roping in health care providers and DISD (which keeps loading up our kids with hummus).
We all know how serious the spread of childhood obesity has become: "It is reaching critical proportions," Leppert said. Which is pretty much the joke I would've made there if he hadn't beat me to it.