Sacramento City Council plans to boost parks budget for first time since '07

Published: Wednesday, May. 22, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 22, 2013 - 3:29 pm

Sacramento's core public services have been devastated the past five years, the result of persistent, historic budget deficits at City Hall.

Police officers have been laid off, fire rigs have been shut down and development projects have been put on hold.

Of all the services to take a hit, the upkeep of the city's vast parks system has been affected perhaps the most. That cycle of cuts now seems likely to end.

For the first time since 2007, the city is proposing to add to its parks budget, the result of new revenue generated by an increase in the sales tax that was approved by voters in November.

Under a proposal unveiled Tuesday to the City Council, the city would increase the number of times per week it mows lawns and cleans bathrooms at its more than 200 parks.

All but one of the city's 12 pools would open this summer, along with five wading pools. Hours and programs at community centers would be beefed up, programs for at-risk youths would be expanded and long-dormant park repair projects would begin.

"After five years of cuts, I've got to tell you, I'm through with it," parks director Jim Combs told the City Council.

Five years ago, the department's budget hit a peak of $54 million. Even with a proposed infusion of $4.4 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, the parks budget would reach $33.8 million.

That additional funding from Measure U, the sales tax increase, comes from a overall pool of $27 million. The council is also poised to restore services to the Fire Department and begin hiring police officers this summer.

The council is scheduled to formally adopt the budget next month.

In the parks department, $1.5 million would be added to the city's pools if the council approves the proposed budget. The only pool that won't open this summer is the Cabrillo Pool in Meadowview, which needs significant repairs.

The park maintenance budget would increase by $1.6 million.

Trash will be picked up twice a day, up from five times a week; park lawns will be mowed every week instead of every two to three weeks; restrooms will be cleaned twice a day, not once a day; and crews will weed and trim park land twice a month, up from once a month.

Combs said the city would also "be re-establishing (community) centers as the hub of our communities."

The Oak Park, Hagginwood, George Sim, Samuel C. Pannell and South Natomas centers will all see increased hours and programs, including intramural sports and mentoring programs for at-risk youths.

The city also plans to expand its Friday night "hot spot" program launched in 2011 by Councilman Kevin McCarty at the George Sim Center in the Glen Elder/Avondale neighborhood. The weekly event draws between 150 and 200 teens and could be expanded to Oak Park, Del Paso Heights and Meadowview.

McCarty said expanding the hot spots program "is going to be a difference-maker in some of our economically challenged neighborhoods."

"This is all good news for us," McCarty said of the overall increase to the parks budget. "Parks are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods."

Mary Rogers, president of the Fruitridge Manor Neighborhood Association of south Sacramento, said parks play vital roles in neighborhoods.

"It helps as you're going through life to be able to have a place you can gather safely," said Rogers, whose neighborhood is in line to get a new park with the help of state grant funding. "People should feel that they don't have to leave their neighborhood to go for a walk, or breathe, and run into their friends."

Call The Bee's Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at sacbee.com/citybeat. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_lillis.

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