This afternoon in High Point, I stood with Mayor McGinn and acting Superintendent of Parks and Recreation, Christopher Williams, as the mayor announced his preferred option for the future of our community centers. Mayor McGinn will incorporate our Option #2, or the Geographic Management and Service Level option, into his 2012 budget.
It is unusual to have the mayor unveil a portion of his budget before he officially presents it to City Council; his presentation is expected to take place in two weeks on Monday, September 26th. This announcement about our community centers is very important. Here’s why:
The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has taken a high proportion of cuts and budget reductions the past few years. When the City had to reduce its budget, it committed to prioritize investments in social services, police, and fire. This is appropriate. Yet, as chair of our Parks Committee, I wanted to make sure that Parks did not for a third year in a row take a disproportionate budget hit. Our parks and community centers provide great benefits to us. They are critical to our quality of life. We can’t let them deteriorate.
To address this budget problem, my Council colleagues and I decided last year to approach our DPR budget in a different light. We needed to think about our budget proactively. We must save money, but we want to keep our parks and community centers accessible to all of us. This is why Council unanimously adopted Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) 101-1-A-1 asking Parks to examine alternative models of operation for the Community Center system.
For the last eight months, smart and dedicated people have been working on the response to this SLI. First, employees from Parks, the Budget Office, and Central Staff were tasked with gathering data about useage of the community centers and analyzing reports to get a better understanding of how our current community center system works. The centers have been run the same way for decades.
Second, a Community Center Advisory Team (CCAT) was also created to develop a menu of possible options for our Centers. This team was composed of leaders from Parks, Council Staff, Budget, labor, teen and senior groups as well as devoted community members.
Both groups were inundated with data showing details about community center usage, and spent countless hours scouring over material. They looked at how many people used each community center and for what purposes. Day care? Swimming? Basketball? Pottery? Yoga? What hours were in highest demand in the various neighborhoods?
Ultimately these groups created a list of possible options, nine to be exact. The full matrix of options is available for review.
My expectation for this exercise was two-fold. First, I wanted to find a way to keep all of our twenty-five centers open. The centers are in demand in every neighborhood. Second, I wanted our decisions to be community-driven and data-driven. No exceptions. We have done that: Option #2 achieves both of these objectives.
I am grateful for all of the work that so many have devoted towards our community centers over the past eight months. The SLI was ambitious but we see how important it was, and is. We often hear from taxpayers that they want us to stream line government and to “do more with less.” The options are thoughtful and sensitive in nature. I appreciate all the work and the results, which is why I support the mayor’s decision. I hope you will, too.