Visitors to Spokane’s expansive park system may notice a little more brown this summer than years past, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic.
Seven city parks are still watered at least partially by hand, and the ranks of seasonal workers who would usually provide the labor have been reduced as the Parks Department seeks to limit expenses, said Josh Morrisey, a spokesman for the department.
“We’re focused on asset protection,” he said. “The turf is still alive.”
Observers have noticed browning conditions in Audubon Park in the Audubon-Downriver Park and its stand of large Ponderosa pine trees, as well as yellowing grass throughout the 27-acre space off Northwest Boulevard. Other parks that are watered by hand include Coeur d’Alene Park in Browne’s Addition, portions of Manito, High Bridge, High Drive and Franklin parks, as well as all of Cannon Hill Park, Morrisey said.
The department usually hires about 30 seasonal employees who handle watering in addition to other duties. This summer there are four employees doing that work.
“They may look a little thirsty,” Morrisey said of the hand-watered parks. But, the department just hired a fifth employee whose sole task will be watering, so some relief is on the way.
The department has begun installing irrigation systems at its four golf courses in an effort to reduce water waste, work that has been funded by extra fees paid by golfers.
The Parks budget is set at a minimum of 8% of the general fund expenses by the city the previous year, per the terms of the Spokane City Charter. Park Board officials have expressed concern that with reduced municipal spending due to the coronavirus outbreak, there could be an additional hit to park activities in 2021.
The Parks Department had spent $6.8 million through the first six months of 2020, according to figures released earlier this month. That’s compared with revenue of $8.6 million. The department had planned to spend $9.2 million by this point with revenues of nearly $10 million, according to budget forecasts prepared prior to the pandemic.
There will be little relief this week for parched parks. Temperatures are forecast in the upper 90s and over 100 degrees through Friday, following a relatively cool and wet start to the summer.
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