Friday, July 1, 2016 by Cate Malek

Parks and Rec budget bogged down by golf

The Parks and Recreation Board is concerned that expenses from Austin’s city golf courses will overshadow the other needs in its already tight budget.

At their meeting on June 29, board members looked over a budget forecast that predicts an increase of $11.9 million for the next fiscal year. But they pointed out that the number is misleading because it is largely based on covering shortfalls from the municipal golf program that the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) has been subsidizing for years. They worry that this cost will distract City Council from approving budget increases for other badly needed park services.

“It’s going to make it harder to get more money for substantive activities,” said Board Member Rick Cofer. “Council is going to look at this and say, ‘We’ve already put in double digit growth for y’all. What more do you guys want?’”

The city of Austin runs six municipal golf courses. They are meant to be self-sustaining but have faced a number of problems in recent years.

Complications such as droughts and parasites have meant that the city has had to subsidize the courses, said Kimberly McNeeley, assistant director of PARD.

Although PARD has been covering the golf courses’ expenses for years, this year it is acknowledging that the courses are losing money and so is moving them into its general fund as a budgeted expense. This move ballooned what should have been a 2 percent budget increase to 13.5 percent.

The city has traditionally invested less in its parks than other cities around the country. Austin spends $83 per capita on parks, compared to cities like Seattle, which spends $265, according to numbers provided by PARD.

“I think everyone around this table agrees that our parks are under-resourced, and probably more investment in our parks is a good thing,” said Cofer.

The budget increase includes other expenses, such as $756,000 to bring seasonal park employees like lifeguards up to a living wage. The living wage, or amount workers need to meet their basic needs, is set at $13.03 for Austin.

In addition to the $11 million increase, PARD staff members also have a list of requests that they will ask Council to consider. The requests, totaling $15 million, include things like Hepatitis B vaccinations. The vaccinations would be given to groundskeepers who are often charged with picking up trash in the parks and have a chance of being exposed to Hepatitis B in the process.

“This is a very important safety requirement for our grounds crews,” said Suzanne Piper, PARD financial manager.

Other requests include funding for recycling services throughout the parks and armed-car services for park employees transporting money from facilities such as pools or rec centers. Staff is also planning to ask for budget increases for, among other things, improvements to the aging infrastructure at a number of facilities as well as educational programs.

But board members cautioned PARD staff to present the budget carefully so that Council will focus on the requests for funding for additional services, in addition to the $11.9 million needed to maintain the services PARD is already providing.

“We need more money, but sucking an egg on golf is going to make that hard,” Cofer said.

Photo by Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

city budget: The city’s plan for expenditures based on income.

City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.

Parks and Recreation Board: The city’s Parks and Recreation Board members deal with the acquisition, development, improvement, and maintenance of Austin’s parks and playgrounds.

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