Kleinman said city officials need to consider making bigger cuts to other departments, even police, to help spare the Park Department from cutting what could amount a third of its budget in two years.”
Dallas recreation centers will escape some of the drastic funding cuts proposed by city managers for next year, thanks to a projected $1.8 million increase in earnings at the city’s landfill, city officials say.
The money will go to maintain recreation center operating hours, which officials have suggested reducing to help close a city budget gap originally projected at $130 million in a $2 billion spending plan. The proposed slashing of recreation center hours has produced an outcry from City Council members and their constituents.
Centers now open 40 hours per week will be able to maintain that schedule, rather than reducing to 30 hours per week. Some that operate 55 hours per week may cut to 45, rather than 30, Park and Recreation Director Paul Dyer told the Park Board on Thursday.
“We’re no longer at 30 hours, we’re at 45 hours pretty much across the board, and that’s great news,” Dyer said.
The extra earnings at the landfill will come from fees paid by solid-waste haulers. This month, the council passed an ordinance giving the haulers an increased discount for signing five-year contracts.
City staffers say that based on discussions with prospective waste-hauling customers, they estimate the new rules will increase business next year at the landfill, translating into $1.8 million more in revenue.
“Given the widely expressed concerns by council members and citizens in town hall meeting regarding recreation hours, I have requested that Parks Department Director Paul Dyer develop an expanded schedule for recreation centers” based on the new revenue, City Manager Mary Suhm wrote this week in a memo to the council.
Park Board President Mike Rawlings welcomed the news but said there is more to do.
“I think this news with the $1.8 million is great, but it doesn’t get us all the way,” he said. “I’ve got a $4 million number in my head – it wouldn’t make everything fabulous but … I think we could do a lot.
“We have been working with the mayor on the private funding side of this, and hopefully we’re going to be making some progress very soon on that.”
Coming into the fiscal year, city officials cut the park and recreation budget from $75 million to $64 million. Under the budget recommended by Suhm this month, it would have been further reduced to about $51 million.
During a discussion of the parks budget Thursday, board members raised recreation centers as one of their chief concerns. But many also bemoaned drastic cuts to park maintenance.
Park officials have said that under a once-per-month mowing cycle, weeds could grow 18 inches high.
“While we’re hearing a lot about particularly rec centers and pools, those serve very niche groups,” board member Lee Kleinman said. “We do own 22,000 acres of park land that needs to be maintained. And there are far more people that are in those parks on a day-in and day-out basis than are in our rec centers.”
Kleinman said city officials need to consider making bigger cuts to other departments, even police, to help spare the Park Department from cutting what could amount a third of its budget in two years.
“I think it’s really critical that we go back to our council members and say we need to look for other places to find funds,” Kleinman said. “And I’m sorry, I think the big place is in public safety.”
A small nick in the police budget could restore a huge chunk of the much smaller park and recreation budget, Kleinman pointed out.
Mayor Tom Leppert has said he nominated Rawlings as the new Park Board president in part to help the city look for private funds to support the city’s parks and rec centers.
In that spirit, park officials on Thursday announced a “citizens summit” on Nov. 6 at Fair Park. It will include workshops on creating public-private partnerships and launching friends groups.
Kleinman, who came up with the idea, is organizing the summit.
“We’re trying to provide a forum where we can help people start those groups and maintain them,” he said.