We Councilmembers will make a decision next Monday whether and how to create a funding source dedicated to Parks alone.
We have loved our parks and greenspaces for more than a century. We look to parks for health, sanctuary, and play. Unfortunately, we have been unable to maintain them as if they will be around for the next 100 years.
As chair of our Parks Department between 2010 and 2013, I worked with parks to take and confirm sensible cost-cutting measures. Knowing that we will need to go back to the voters, I have repeatedly said we can’t keep asking voters for more without delivering more.
Parks has tightened its belt over the past four years. The Seattle Parks Department has demonstrated that they have reduced costs, their programs are responsive to the community and within budget, their construction projects are value-engineered from the get-go. Parks has made impressive progress.
Parks’ has lived within a significantly reduced budget. Parks’ staff has been reduced by 12% since 2009 – over 100 employees were layed off, and many have had to live with significantly reduced hours. The City sadly had to take millions of dollars from Parks’ general fund budget year after year during the economic downturn. Hard times require some tough choices.
On the positive side, Parks has met the challenge. Parks has reduced its operating costs, now uses less energy, changed maintenance practices to meet national standards and improved staffing models. These reductions have been documented. See the Legacy Plan: (http://www.seattle.gov/parks/legacy/files/PLP_Draft_V2.pdf).
Labor unions have also been helpful. Labor leadership worked with Parks management to keep costs down, to freeze salaries, and to negotiate a new category of workers who can work across-skills. These employees now go to a park and accomplish multiple tasks: they change the lights, fix the sprinklers, paint out graffiti, clean up the garbage, and more, thereby allowing the skilled crafts to do what they do best, efficiently. The workers have saved Parks money, and they have contributed to a positive park environment.
While the Park system has been growing, Parks has done more with less. Yet, as I’ve written before, (Investing in our Future), there’s a limit to how much can be done with less. That’s where the Council comes in.
City Council is now considering the Mayor’s $54 million Proposal of Parks Investment Initiatives. This proposal is based upon the recommendations of a very dedicated group of citizens who worked for nearly a year to evaluate problems and propose solutions.
Under the Mayor’s proposal, 62% of the investments –nearly 2/3’s — will be made to take care of the major maintenance backlog and update the current parks and facilities we have. This has been my personal long term goal, to FIX IT FIRST. Thereafter, 10% of the investments will be used to promote and pay for improved programs for people. And 25% of the investments will be made to build for the future.
Our 465 Parks, 6200 acres of green space, 26 community centers, 10 swimming pools, 150 playgrounds, and 204 athletic fields provide substantial benefits –our property values increase, our health improves, we build community spirit, neighbors meet neighbors, our water is cleaner and our air is cleaner.
Council will vote on Monday. I will be voting yes for the Seattle Park District. Sustainable, Accessible.