Concerns raised on cuts to gardens in parks

Reducing spending on gardens and floral displays may help Metro Parks balance its 2013-14 budget, but such proposals do not seem popular with the elected officials who oversee the agency’s operations. Metro Parks Commission went over the recommended budget during its Nov. 19 Committee of the Whole meeting. Several staff members gave presentations. Steve Knauer, parks and building services director, discussed the parks and natural resources organizational chart for the next two years. There are 74 full-time positions budgeted in this area. Knauer said this area will see a reduction of 26 percent in staff level hours. The amount of revenue forecast for 2011-12 is $5.38 million. The amount expected in the next biennium is $6.03 million, or an additional $644,000. The amount of expenditures forecast for 2011-12 is $18.8 million. The amount expected in the next biennium is $19.94 million, or an increase of $1.14 million. Knauer said plans call for reducing horticultural displays at Point Defiance Park in areas near the front entrance. Staff also wants to eliminate funding hanging baskets along Ruston Way. Knauer said Ruston Way businesses could be contacted about paying for the baskets.

Commissioner Larry Dahl said this approach is used for the baskets along South Tacoma Way. Area businesses pick up the tab, with no cost for the city government. Dahl said most cities try to keep flower baskets, even during difficult economic times. The W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory at Wright Park currently has a new display each month. Knauer said the plan for the future is to have four displays a year, which would last about six or seven weeks each. Visitors are currently asked to make a voluntary donation upon entering, which generates about $15,000 a year. Plans call for changing this to a mandatory entrance fee. Dahl said he objects to a mandatory fee. He thinks it would drive away many of the older visitors. Commissioner Tim Reid also objects. He said many visitors just want to spend a few moments looking at the flowers Commissioner Erik Hanberg voiced concerns about how the money would be collected. “It seems this would be very cumbersome to manage.” Knauer said gardens at Wapato Lake Park are proposed to be replaced by bark mulch.

Dahl said this idea is unacceptable to him. “You would have a very sterile situation.” “That is pretty drastic,” Reid added. Knauer said he is in a situation of having to choose between maintaining roofs and rain gutters or allocate funds for hanging baskets. Shon Sylvia, director of recreation and community services, discussed his organizational chart for the next two years. The revenue forecast for 2011-12 is $10.44 million, while it is expected to be $10.5 million for the next biennium. Forecast expenditures for 2011-12 is $15.83 million, while it is expected to be $16.13 million for the next biennium. This department used to have 42 full-time positions, but is budgeted for 39 for 2013-14. Reid told Sylvia he had received several e-mails from people concerned that Metro Parks planned to close Fort Nisqually or make drastic cuts at the attraction in Point Defiance Park. Peggy Barchi, volunteer and event coordinator, has turned in her resignation, which is effective in December.

“We will probably need to replace that position,” Sylvia said. Sylvia said Metro Parks provides adequate funding for Fort Nisqually, based on what it can afford. Events at Fort Nisqually generally are of a historical nature, reflecting the former Hudson’s Bay Company facility of the mid-1800s it replicates. Sylvia said staff has been contacted by groups that want to hold chili cook-offs and similar events unrelated to history. He said such requests should be considered in order to generate revenue. Sylvia said paid staff at Fort Nisqually may be on site only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the future, and some of the buildings might be shut down from Monday through Thursday. Hanberg expressed concern that Fort Nisqually could end up like the now closed Camp 6 Logging Museum at Point Defiance. The commission will hold a public hearing on the budget during its Nov. 26 meeting. It is expected to vote on the budget on Dec. 10.

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