Last fall, City Council spent weeks trying to adopt a balanced budget that reflected our City’s values. This was no easy task as we faced millions in cuts.
As you may know, I chair the Parks and Seattle Center Committee and, historically, when budget cuts are made, Parks takes a large portion of those reductions. The Parks department does not generate revenue to cover its operating costs, so it is heavily reliant on the City’s general funds. As such, when the general fund suffers, so does the Parks budget. Last year, for example, we cut nearly $10M from the department’s budget.
The Parks Department cannot sustain continued budget cuts without a significant impact on the quality of our parks and programs. Given our new economic climate, if we want to keep our parks open, we can no longer continue to manage the system the way we have in the past. This is why my colleagues and I passed Statement of Legislative Intent (SLI) 101-1-A-1 to direct the Department of Parks and Recreation to explore more financially sustainable, long-term models of operations for our community centers.
Why focus on community centers? Well, truth be told, they are expensive to operate and maintain. We currently have 25 community centers in Seattle. The annual operating budget for our centers hovers around $11M. A typical community center costs about$400,000 year to operate and approximately 85% of the budget is for staffing. Centers with swimming pools cost significantly more to operate and maintain. Cost recovery ranges between 2% to 50%, meaning that for every dollar spent by taxpayers, two to 50 cents is recovered through fees.
At Council’s request, in January, two groups were formed to conduct research and analysis in order to respond to the SLI: an internal working group of staff and a Community Center Advisory Team (CCAT) of volunteers.
The groups have met regularly for the past six months examining who uses community centers, how and when they are used, and which Center are most used by their communities. The group’s goal is to determine how we can maximize the effectiveness, efficiency and value of our community centers. They have spent countless hours collecting data, analyzing reports, and discussing various models for our Centers. These groups have vetted and developed a menu of possible options for how to operate community centers in our city.
The options (available here) range from increasing program fees for residents outside the city limits to restructuring geographic management; from creating tier levels of centers to offering sponsorship opportunities to private businesses. To learn more, please visit my webpage or attend one of the public meetings we are holding.
It has been a long six months. I want to take a moment to thank the staff and volunteers who have worked arduously on this project. We’ve been inundated with information regarding our Centers. We’ve taken steps to get a better understanding of our current community center system. We determined to find the best way to manage our community resources in the future.
In order for this exercise to work, we want and need to hear from you!
We are holding these public meetings to get your input. For more information about the meetings, please visit: http://www.seattle.gov/council/issues/ccpartnership/default.htm.