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PARD requests budget increase for security, staffing and program expansion

Thursday, May 6, 2021 by Sean Saldaña

Last week, the Parks and Recreation Board unanimously voted to approve recommendations for budget increases for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

According to the recommendation, Austin’s parks system has experienced an increase in off-leash dog violations, illegal parking, notifications of homeless encampments, alcohol in parks and “inappropriate behavior in greenbelts.”

Because of these issues, along with the loss of fee revenue over the past year due to the pandemic, PARD has requested more money from the city to serve its “under-resourced needs” in the upcoming city budget. The money would be used to fund a number of projects ranging from increasing summer camp capacity to investing in training.

One of these requests is for $147,000 for addressing the security needs at different pool facilities around the city.

In response to “multiple incidents of volatile conflicts and misuse of facilities,” Stacy Pool employs an off-duty APD officer to provide security – a service that comes at a high price. In an email to the Austin Monitor, PARD spokesperson Kanya Lyons revealed that Stacy Pool frequently deals with “inappropriate and illegal behaviors in the showers/bathroom facilities” and off-duty officers are able to help staffers and remove patrons when needed.

According to the document, the current expense of paying a police officer $61 an hour equates to a weekly cost of $5,765, or about $300,000 a year.

Lyons said the city is paying for the additional security by reallocating funds within the Aquatics General Fund Operating Budget.

The additional funds from the city would help the parks department cut this expense roughly in half, as the Aquatics Department has been incorporated into the city’s Security Services Contract, an agreement with security firms to provide security personnel to various city departments.

Another place the department is looking to upgrade security support department-wide comes at an estimated cost of $245,000.

Right now, team members from the city’s occupational health and safety department are “acting as security personnel” even though “they have no security experience and no necessary security training to adequately support the PARD employees and properties.”

Normally, occupational safety staffers are supposed to investigate patron injuries, provide safety training, conduct safety inspections and assess fire prevention.

If granted, this request would add two positions dedicated to “security concerns and illegal activity occurring on PARD property.”

The department is also looking to strengthen its Park Rangers division, which according to the recommendation, is “the frontline in addressing so many of the challenges” facing the parks system.

From March 15 to April 15, park rangers handled more than 1,700 interactions with the public regarding laws, safety, service and education. Zilker Park was far and away the most popular location for these interactions, making up more than 1,100 of all interactions.

The request, which estimates a cost of $2.4 million, is the largest budget item on the list and would add 12 full-time-equivalent positions to the park ranger staff.

At the moment, PARD has 21 park rangers who cover 300 parks seven days a week.

If approved, this would allow the rangers to work in three teams of full-time rangers with another five teams of temporary employees during the busy summer months.

The recommendation also includes a request for $1.2 million to increase PARD’s Out of School Time youth program – which can accommodate 375 more children if granted – a $585,000 request for department-wide training support, and an additional $269,000 for safety-related staffing at Barton Springs.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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