The City of Seattle is scrambling to cover a multimillion dollar budget deficit. Now, people close to the situation say Parks and Recreation will take the biggest hit, with first cuts planned as soon as July, according to the Associated Recreation Council, an independent non-profit that partners with the city department.
“Community members need to share their personal stories with the Mayor and City Council members if they expect the doors to stay open and the parks maintained,” said Christina Arcidy, Project Coordinator for ARC, in an e-mail sent to CHS. “There are no public meetings or formal requests for public comment, so individuals must reach out to their elected officials and start a dialogue if they want to have an impact.”
Cuts could include lawn and mowing maintenance for all Seattle parks. Pools and public facilities in all parks, including Volunteer, Cal Anderson and Miller Parks, will not be open to the public any longer, or may have shorter operation hours.
While none of the major planned cuts have been confirmed by Parks or the city, CHS received confirmation from a City employee with knowledge of the situation who asked to remain anonymous about the severity – and certainty – of the cuts being planned.
“Overall, I’ve been told in meetings that everything, including pools, community centers and environmental centers in all parks and open spaces will receive dramatically less attention,” said the employee. “Parks facilities and [public] open spaces will be considered for cuts and reductions in service. This is unprecedented, to my knowledge.”
The official word from Parks is that the jury is still out on definite cutbacks. There is a Budget Public Hearing scheduled for April 28 at 5:30 p.m. at New Holly Gathering Hall, and a follow-up one on May 4 at 5:30 p.m. at North Seattle Community College.
UPDATE 10:10 AM:
Parks spokesperson Joelle Hammerstad sent CHS the following e-mail this morning:
Please stop reporting that Parks budget cuts are a “done deal.” I can tell you unequivocally that they are not. The Superintendent has said repeatedly that “everything is on the table.” In fact, I just spoke with him this morning, and he reiterated it again.
While I hesitate to conjecture about what meetings the anonymous employee is referring to, it is possible that he/she is talking about potential budget scenarios that the department is considering. This is a normal part of the budget cutting process. We have not yet received directions from the City Budget Office (CBO) regarding our target reductions; however, we anticipate that we will have to make mid-year reductions, as well as 2011 reductions.
To wait until after we receive direction from CBO to begin considering where we will make those reductions would be nothing short of careless. It is our responsibility to the taxpayers to begin having conversations internally about where we can fill the budget gap. Pool and community center closures are being considered, but so is everything else.
“It’s too early to know,” said Dewey Potter, Communications Manager for Seattle Parks and Recreation. “Parks and Recreation will certainly share in the reductions needed to make up for that [$50 million] shortfall. The City Budget Office [CBO] has not yet issued its 2011 budget instructions to departments. When we receive them around the end of April, they will be based on the latest revenue forecast and a target budget number for each department.”
The anonymous employee, however, said that the cuts are already a done deal and that Parks is already planning the reductions.
“To my knowledge there are no more votes on this, and the decisions are final,” said the employee.
Cal Anderson Park Alliance president Kay Rood was hesitant to comment on rumors and says CAPA will follow any marching orders they receive from Parks about how to proceed, but haven’t heard any official word yet on what will happen with the proposed budget cuts.
“We are generally aware of the well-publicized and serious city-wide budget problems, that some mid-year adjustments are being discussed and considered,” Rood told CHS. “However, Parks has not contacted CAPA directly with budget cuts specific to Cal Anderson Park.”
Even as operating funds for Parks maintenance and programs come under increasing budget pressure, Capitol Hill continues to see investment in new neighborhood green spaces and facilities. Potter provided a list of scheduled Hill projects and their timelines:
Renovation of the Volunteer Park playground (Parks and Green Spaces Levy) -Planning begins in 2011, there are no web documents available.
Seismic and HVAC work at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park (Parks and Green Spaces Levy) – no web page yet, planning begins in 2011
Capitol Hill Urban Center Village (Parks and Green Spaces Levy)– No budget or schedule set yet but Parks hosted a public meeting on a proposed 12,000 square foot property on Federal Ave. E. and E. Republican St. on Feb. 23 of this month.
Garfield Playfield lighting replacement project (Cumulative Reserve Subfund): Part of an ongoing project to replace outdated light systems, the total cost for this project is $11 million and construction began in November of last year.
Garfield Playfield infield improvements (Cumulative Reserve Subfund): Budget of $50,000 but was almost completely funded by King County Youth Sports Facility Program. Construction began February of this year and is scheduled for completion in April.
Seven Hills Park: Approved to break ground in March with construction scheduled for completion in mid-July
John and Summit Park: Construction documents are complete. The project is expected to bid in February and construction is expected to break ground in spring 2010.
Meanwhile, people working to maintain existing Parks assets are concerned. Friends of the Conservatory, a group established to advocate for Volunteer Park and the Conservatory, are extremely worried about budget cuts within Parks, and they fear that the 98 year-old Conservatory is facing permanent closure.
“We have not had any formal conversation with Parks. That being said, the handwriting has been on the wall for some time,” said Audrey Meade, office administrator of Friends of the Conservatory, speaking on behalf of the board of directors. “There have been some conversations we’ve had off the record and we know exactly where we stand. It’s not looking so hot… There are imminent deep cuts coming, either cuts in operation or the Conservatory may be closed completely.”
The Conservatory officially opened in 1912, is free to the public and is one of only three Victorian-style greenhouses on the West coast. It is an extremely fragile building, and the city has spent millions to restore it since the Friends of the Conservatory fought for funding in 1980. Friends recently applied for a grant from the Opportunity Fund of the ProParks Levy to rebuild an aging support greenhouse.
They have been working hard to get the entire facilities renovated by the official centennial celebration in 2012. They only have a third of the building left to renovate before it’s finished.
The Friends of the Conservatory sent out a newsletter through their channels last week, officially recognizing the fear of closure to their supporters in an attempt to rally the troops around saving the Conservatory.
“We are working really hard right now, putting our heads together about what the best thing to do is,” said Meade. “We want to show the city that we can help with the budget challenges. We’ve been around 100 years and have weathered many economic crises, including the Great Depression. Those leaders saw its significance but it seems that the Mayor and City Council are choosing not to.”
The annual Friends of the Conservatory meeting is open to the public and scheduled for April 27, and the annual Plant Sale is on May 8. The group says they will have more information available at those gatherings.
“It would be devastating to the Seattle community if we lost it,” said Meade. “It’s a refuge for all types of people. A lot of people come here from the hospitals looking for soothing quietness. It’s accessible to everyone, and we get a lot of retired groups and little kids that come and just stare at the collections. It’s peaceful, it’s inspiring, it’s romantic,” said Meade. “It fills a lot of needs you can’t find in a concrete jungle.”
In what could be a preview of things to come, Parks sent out this announcement of scheduled closures for April, sent on the behalf of Mayor McGinn and Superintendent Gallagher:
Many Seattle Parks and Recreation facilities will be closed on Friday, April 9, and Monday, April 12, for a furlough day. Youth Violence Prevention Initiative sites will furlough on Wednesday, April 7.
City of Seattle employees are taking 10 days off without pay in 2010 to help fill the budget gap. Seattle Parks and Recreation has worked hard to schedule furlough days in a way that has the smallest possible impact on customers, and that provides as much coverage as possible.
These facilities and services are closed on Friday, April 9:
·Community centers (except child care and late night programs, which will still operate).
·Environmental Learning Centers
·Lifelong Recreation (except Food and Fitness programs, which will still operate)
·Business Service Center
These facilities and services are closed on Monday, April 12:
·Administrative offices (communications, correspondence, Park Board support, web management, public outreach, human resources, finance and administration)
·Planning and Development Division
·Magnuson Park office
These facilities will operate normally:
·Golf courses will operate as usual.
·The Seattle Aquarium will assign furloughs individually to ensure that its 24-hour animal care responsibilities are met and that it stays open to the public.