Lee M. Kleinman

Home » Uncategorized » Park and Recreation among departments that could be hit hard by Dallas budget cuts

Park and Recreation among departments that could be hit hard by Dallas budget cuts

By STEVE THOMPSON
The Dallas Morning News
Published: 17 February 2011 11:27 PM
 

“Some Park Board members even talked Thursday about possibly shuttering all the centers.

“Maybe we just shouldn’t be operating our recreation centers anymore,” said board member Lee Kleinman. “I’d rather see us have decent parks where at least they’re always open and people can always use them.”

Board vice president Joan Walne agreed.”

As Dallas braces for yet another tough budget year, city officials have begun preparing to make decisions on where and how to make cuts.

In recent days, City Manager Mary Suhm has asked most departments to prepare preliminary budgets that slash about 20 percent from their current operating costs. She asked the police and fire departments to present proposals that cut costs by 10 percent.

“I’ve given each one of them a percentage to go do,” Suhm said Thursday.

She stressed that it is only a starting point, and that the city will not have important property tax estimates until May.

Last month, Suhm released numbers forecasting a city budget gap next year of $41 million to $96 million in the city’s $2 billion operating budget because of declining revenue.

That forecast largely remains the same, she said.

“I’m worried about how the feds and the state are going to have an impact on it,” Suhm said. “Some of the conversations that are being had there are pretty frightening.”

In September, the City Council voted 8-7 to raise the tax rate 4.91 cents, or nearly the maximum allowed by law, to help close a gap that swelled to nearly $200 million in early 2010.

That rate increase brought City Hall an additional $39 million in revenue that proponents said was desperately needed to maintain streets, parks and other city services.

But council members have expressed reluctance to raise taxes again.

Mayor Tom Leppert, the rate increase’s leading opponent, said Thursday that the latest budget gap shows that raising taxes was not the answer.

“The challenge that we have now is we are trying to grow the tax base at a time when we have increased the tax rate and made it more difficult to attract businesses and individuals,” Leppert said.

“We have not solved the problem by raising taxes, and we have made it more difficult to truly solve the problem in the future.”

Advocates of the tax rate increase, such as council members Tennell Atkins and Angela Hunt, have said the increase was essential to keeping city services at an acceptable level.

Among the departments grappling with the cuts is the Park and Recreation Department.

Many park services were saved this fiscal year when property taxes were raised. The roughly $12 million in added park funds went toward keeping grass cut, litter picked up and recreation centers operating at normal hours.

But for next year, park officials are preparing to cut about $12 million from the system’s $65 million budget, putting it where it would have been this year without the tax hike.

Park officials are bracing themselves for how that will play with the public.

“They’re going to say, ‘You mean you raised taxes for this purpose, and now you’re taking that away?’” parks director Paul Dyer predicted at a meeting of the Dallas Park Board on Thursday.

The same cuts once feared for this year are on the table again for next year.

One of the major cuts could be to park maintenance. Instead of picking up litter two or three times per week, city workers could scale back to once a week. Instead of mowing every 16 days, they could mow once a month.

But park officials are contemplating making cuts differently. Last year, they devised elaborate plans for keeping all the city’s recreation centers open, but cutting them to various levels of hours and staffing.

“It got so convoluted last year, it was crazy,” Dyer said.

This year, if the feared cuts materialize, officials plan instead to close some recreation centers altogether.

Some Park Board members even talked Thursday about possibly shuttering all the centers.

“Maybe we just shouldn’t be operating our recreation centers anymore,” said board member Lee Kleinman. “I’d rather see us have decent parks where at least they’re always open and people can always use them.”

Board vice president Joan Walne agreed.

“We just need to eliminate something completely,” she said, “because I think that’s attention-getting, and I also think that there’s nowhere else to carve off.”

It’s an idea that would likely meet with stiff opposition from council members, who tend to be very protective of recreation centers in their districts. And at least one Park Board member cringed at the suggestion.

“There are going to be a lot of upset Dallasites,” said board member Taylor Brannon. “And as a taxpayer myself, I would feel betrayed.”

http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/dallas/headlines/20110217-park-and-recreation-among-departments-that-could-be-hit-hard-by-dallas-budget-cuts.ece

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