Funding our Parks: The Big Picture

 

We held our second meeting of the Select Committee on Parks Funding on Monday, March 17th. My council colleagues and I received extensive briefings from the co-chairs of the Parks Legacy Advisory Committee, Barbara Wright and Charlie Zaragoza, by Ben Noble and Mike Fong from the Mayor’s Office, Christopher Williams from Parks and Meg Moorehead and Norm Schwab from Council Central Staff.

The Parks Legacy Citizens’ Advisory Committee has been meeting for much of the past year, reviewing strategic information assembled by Parks as well as receiving public comment. Here is the Parks Legacy Citizens’ Advisory Committee’s (PLCAC) Final Report.

MapleLeaf(news)

Seattle Parks provide space for everyone, irrespective of abilities.

The Mayor and staff reviewed the PLCAC’s recommendations, and in turn made recommendations to the Council which you can read here — Mayor Murray’s recommendation for funding.

Finally, you can read the an analysis from the City Council’s Central Staff describing the decisions the Council will make this spring.

Council formed the Select Committee on Parks Funding this year to make recommendations for a long term, financially sustainable plan for maintenance of our park system and improvement of programs and services.

I have been overseeing the strategic work undertaken by our Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) these past four years, and have worked closely with the PLCAC in preparation for these recommendations.  I have briefed my Council colleagues as the PLCAC progressed.

My objectives have been to fourfold: Address the major maintenance backlog in our parks and community centers. Spruce up and repair the parks and community centers we have, increase open hours, and make sure facilities such as the restrooms are open and clean for all to use. Provide improved programming and services for parks users of all ages and abilities. Make sure our voters receive value and visible benefits for their investment, and that the approach to future expenditures is predictable, accountable, and transparent.

special pops(Parks-blog)

Seattle Parks provides programs for special populations that no one else offers.

As identified in the PLCAC’s findings, we have four major problems the City Parks Department needs to solve:

  1. Fix our major maintenance backlog first.
  2. Fund basic services like community centers, restrooms, and fields
  3. Address public desires and programs for all ages and abilities
  4. Leverage funds through new partnerships

At our March 17 meeting, Co-chairs Barbara Wright and Charlie Zaragoza described the PLCAC’s public process, the values upon which the Committee made its final recommendations and a prioritized list of investment initiatives to address the problems.  If you are interested in the many meetings, agendas, and materials reviewed by the PLCAC, please read about that Committee’s work here.

main_carkeek(Parks-Blog)

Carkeek Park is one of my favorites. A walk through the woods leads us right to the beach on Puget Sound.

The PLCAC recommended specific investment initiatives that concur with my objectives including 1) Fund Major Maintenance Backlog and Property Management, 2) Restore Community Center Operations,3) Increase Preventative Maintenance, 4) Save Our City Forests as well as 5) Improve recreation programs for older adults, teens, and people with disabilities.

DPR has a notebook-sized list of major maintenance projects that need attention. The backlog is estimated to be $267 million. In my opinion, fixing these first should be one prime objective, but they should not be the ONLY investments.

The PLCAC’s recommendations were reviewed and for the most part approved by the Mayor for transmittal to the Council’s Select Committee. City Budget Director Ben Noble and Acting Superintendent of DPR Christopher Williams spoke on behalf of Mayor Murray’s proposal.

The Executive proposes the creation of a Seattle Parks District with a six year spending plan with a prioritized list of investment initiatives. This is one possible way to sustainably operate and maintain our parks and facilities.

The Mayor recommends that 53% of our investments be directed toward major maintenance (big ticket items like roofs, boilers, electrical systems, swimming pool overhauls for example); 9% be directed toward ongoing maintenance of our existing parks and community centers; 10% be directed toward programs for adults, teens, toddlers, and special populations, and 25% of the money be dedicated to building for the future – completing parks that have been purchased and land banked for example.

kubota_kids(Parks-blog)

Love these kids learning about rhodedendrons and our urban forests.

We will make our decision this spring, and as scheduled, will send a recommendation to the voters for the August 5,2014 ballot. We will continue our Council conversation on March 31 after the regular Council meeting and on Monday evening, April 7 in Council Chambers 6:00 p.m. for a public hearing. You are invited to both.

I am committed to a measure that brings great value and benefits to all our residents, and I want to make certain people in our city get WHAT THEY HAVE TOLD US THEY WANT.  UPDATED community centers and more community center hours. BETTER maintenance of restrooms system-wide, LONG TERM sustainable plans for basic parks maintenance, BETTER programming for seniors, ADDITIONAL dog parks, protected forests and open spaces.  And much more.

volunteers in park(Parks-blog)The recommendations I have seen so far address these needs. How we make these investments and how much we should investment will be the focus of the Council’s next meetings and my future blog posts. No matter how we answer those first two questions, I will require that any spending plan be predictable, transparent, and accountable to the voters.  We can do this by ordinance and by contract.

More to come.

 

 

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