Residents continue campaign against budget cuts to parks

A group of residents is continuing a campaign against proposed budget cuts to local parks after city staffers this week did not support the group’s proposals.

The group, called Rescue Sacramento Parks, has pitched the City Council several proposals to sustain parks services as the city addresses its projected $50 million deficit for the 2009/2010 fiscal year.

Among many other proposed budget cuts, the city is proposing to slash about $8.3 million and 145 positions from its Department of Parks and Recreation. Rescue Sacramento Parks is worried the proposed cuts to parks will lead to blight and public health and safety problems.

Craig Powell, the group’s chairman, said some of the group’s members will meet Thursday with Parks and Recreation staff “in an effort to find a solution.”

Rescue Sacramento Parks also plans to spread its message to more neighborhood associations, according to Powell. The group’s members participate in neighborhood groups.

Among other suggestions, the group asked City Council to work with the private sector for park maintenance and study whether the city can make more cuts to recreation programs. The group argues that more reductions to recreation programs could lessen the damage to park maintenance services. The City Council last week asked city staffers to analyze the group’s proposals.

In a report to the City Council this week, city staff agreed with residents that privatization of services would save money, but also pointed out drawbacks to the group’s idea.

Moving park maintenance services to the private sector would save an amount of money “estimated to be in excess of 40 percent,” the city staff report notes.

But the cost savings would have downsides, according to the report. “However, the service level would be minimal and response to customers would be reduced,” the report states. “Privatization of basic park maintenance would continue to require city staff to provide contract management and inspection, and more specialized services including irrigation system oversight and emergency repair and oversight of park facilities such as playgrounds, tot lots, all-weather fields, sports courts, picnic and seating areas.”

City staff also wrote that recreation programs should not face cuts on top of the reductions already planned. The department “does not agree that park maintenance should be fully restored at the expense of recreation programs and services; park planning, design and development; grant administration; and other crucial administrative and fiscal services,” the report states.

Rescue Sacramento Parks appreciated the City Council’s decision last week to ask city staff to study the group’s proposals, according to Powell.

But the group is upset that the City Council is not moving on the idea to work with the private sector on park maintenance services. The group is “very disappointed at the Council’s unwillingness to seize the opportunity to save millions of taxpayer dollars while simultaneously restoring basic park maintenance through privatization of park maintenance,” Powell said.

The group had suggested that the city use privatization as a bargaining chip with one of the city’s major unions, Stationary Engineers Local 39. Rescue Sacramento Parks proposed that the city work with the private sector for park maintenance services if Local 39, which includes parks workers, does not make concessions.

Local 39 is currently in negotiations with the city. Joan Bryant, director of public employees for Local 39, was not immediately available to return phone calls Wednesday afternoon.

Kathleen Haley is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press.

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Profile photo of sas
May 27, 2009 | 8:48 PM

Its unfortunate any time there are budget issues and people are layed off. I agree that park maintainance shouldnt be fully restored at the expense of recreation programs. I also believe that while focusing upon the subject of what we need to give up, we may be overlooking a wonderful opportunity. We have large population of homeless and jobless men and women that I have no doubt would jump at the chance to find work. Why couldnt the city retain senior Parks and Recreation employees as trainers? If the homeless were then retained at minimum wage, they would have an opportunity to save money towards a more perminent shelter. Even more important, they would have the fantastic chance to learn a trade along with the pride that only working and becoming a contributing member of society can bring. The men and women that ask me for spare change tell me that the only thing in the world that they want is a job so they can get off of the streets. Lets help them to help themselves! I realize that minimum wage isnt a lot of money. However, this is much more than that. I would almost liken it to being paid to attend school.

May 28, 2009 | 9:58 AM

sas: What you propose appears to be a public service employment program. The anti-poverty efforts in the 1960′s created such programs at various levels of government. They were very successful with individuals often transitioning into career public jobs or participants obtaining experience enabling to find jobs in the private sector.

The much revered Gov. Reagan with legislative support (guess what party) considered these programs a waste of government money (the term coined was “hand holding”) and abolished them.

Profile photo of sas
May 28, 2009 | 5:57 PM

Dale, I dislike the idea of hand outs with no end in site much more than holding someones hand towards a means to an end. It seems to me that public employment would be the win-win compromise for our parks and recreation. Can you imagine how many opportunities there are? There are broken sidewalks and buildings marred by graffitti. There are multitudes of public service opportunities! This would be so much more beneficial to the homeless than hand outs. The city and tax payers save money and the down and out learn a skill that will enable them to re enter the work force with something to put on their resume.

June 2, 2009 | 7:53 AM

Our city parks are the most intimate and continuous contact between the city government and residents. Go to a playground or ball field or running track or city pool and you will find every strata of Sacramento using these parks – families, dog walkers, sports teams, seniors, high-income, low-income, and most particularly kids. If our city parks aren’t decent, where does a city kid go to run or climb around or just play outside?

Like all municipal departments and services, there must be drastic cuts when city revenues have fallen so dramatically. The Park Maintenance Services actual spending for FY 07/08 was $13.9M and cut to $11.8M this year. The proposed budget cuts another $2M out to $9.7M. I can’t accept that the city department can’t maintain our parks for $9.7M without the draconian service cuts that have been proposed. Close some restrooms, stagger some mowing schedules, but these cuts should not stop effective park maintenance.

There are hard decisions to be made in this budget and it is unfortunate that the 4th R and START fall under this department. The mixing of funding clouds the picture when residents try to understand where the money is being spent and the city’s priorities. Clarify how the funding sources correspond to spending for the items that really aren’t “parks & rec”. There are 525 FTE under the budget line items of Children, Teens, & Community Recreation, while the department total if only 679.

Don’t decimate the maintenance of the city’s parks, although make some reasoned service sacrifices. Also, clearly explain how money is spent for the items that don’t relate to park services.

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