March 2, 2010 in City

Cuts loom for Spokane County parks

Department uses tier system to target maintenance reductions
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kathy Plonka photo

“We moved into this neighborhood because of this park,” said Trista Groshon as she played with her daughter Zoe at Pine River Park in Spokane County on Monday. A tight budget is forcing cutbacks, including the closure of bathrooms at Pine River and certain others.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Spokane County parks will be a little browner this summer because of budget cuts.

Garbage cans may be fuller or gone, and restrooms may be locked.

County officials hope, though, that a new three-tier maintenance policy will put the Parks Department’s money where it does the most good.

Basically, popular parks that are closer to the department’s Spokane Valley maintenance shop and farther from other parks will suffer the fewest cuts.

Ten parks designated level 1 will receive nearly normal service while seven level 3 parks will get minimal attention. Irrigation, tables and a little more maintenance will distinguish a couple of level 2 parks from the level 3 parks.

The level 1 parks are: Camp Caro, Gateway, Holmberg, Linwood, Northside Aquatics/Bidwell, Orchard Avenue, Liberty Lake Regional, Plantes Ferry, Shields and Southside Aquatics/Prairie View.

Sontag and the Liberty Lake ORV Park are level 2 parks.

Level 3 includes rural Bear Lake and Fish Lake, and a cluster of suburban parks north of Spokane: Camelot, Freddy’s, Gleneden, Brentwood/Northwood and Pine River.

All county parks will have a shorter maintenance season. Usually maintenance is provided mid-April through mid-October. This year, maintenance will start June 1 and end Sept. 15.

Except for the 2 ½-month curtailment, service at level 1 parks should be at a “relatively high level,” Parks Director Doug Chase said.

“The most notable difference in the level 1’s is you’re going to see those restrooms won’t be opening until June 1 and will remain open only through Sept. 15,” Chase said.

Restrooms won’t open at all in level 2 and 3 parks. Also, drinking water and garbage service won’t be provided.

Irrigation, lawn mowing, tables, electricity and higher maintenance in general will distinguish level 2 from level 3.

For fire safety, Chase said grass will be mowed until it stops growing at level 3 parks.

Some site-specific cuts include restricting shelter rentals to Liberty Lake Regional Park. Shelter rentals and bookings of Camp Caro Lodge will be limited to June 1 through Sept. 15.

The visitor center at Gateway Park will remain closed indefinitely.

In some cases, there was nothing left to cut.

For example, lifeguard service was eliminated last summer at Fish Lake and Bear Lake parks – along with the $2 general admission charge. And none of the county parks has gotten much fertilizer in recent years.

“We’ve been tightening the belt for a while now, and we have tried to be as creative as we can,” Chase said.

County commissioners, during a recent meeting, commended the park staff for stretching its dollars. Closing all the county’s parks, as some constituents suggested, is not viable, commission Chairman Mark Richard said.

“People need, not just want, these recreational opportunities,” Richard said.

Cuts in park maintenance and services total about $175,000, reflecting the loss of two full-time maintenance workers. The department had to reduce its budget by $205,000, but the rest was achieved by reorganizing the administrative staff.

Business and office manager positions were replaced with secretarial positions, and one of two recreation manager positions was reduced to recreation assistant. Special projects manager John Bottelli was elevated to assistant department director.

The department also lost a park ranger when the state withdrew grant money.

The $205,000 cut brings this year’s general fund Parks Department spending down about 10 percent from last year. Fee-supported programs, such as softball and aquatics, have a separate “special revenue” budget.

Fees and other nontax revenue also supplement the department’s general fund budget.

Chase said in an interview that nontax income will cover about $400,000 of the $1.8 million general fund budget this year. The tax-supported portion is less than 1.1 percent of the county’s overall general fund budget, he said.

Parks Department employees are working on materials to explain the cutbacks to park users.

“We really want the public to understand and work with us,” Chase said.

One way people can help is by packing out their own garbage. Refuse disposal is a “very significant” expense, Chase said.

During the commission meeting, Commissioner Todd Mielke said a “sponsor-a-park” program or other volunteer efforts might take some sting out of the cuts. Maybe a service club would like to provide portable toilets at a park, he said.

Chase replied that his staff looked into that and found it would cost about $53,000 to provide the vendor-recommended level of portable toilet service at Fish Lake for the summer.

Safety issues may prevent some volunteer work, but “we will certainly make every effort to take advantage of the goodwill of folks,” Chase told Mielke.

Park Ranger Bryant Robinson has been assigned to work with volunteers. He may be contacted at (509) 477-6395 or brobinson@spokanecounty.org.


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