Seattle Parks and Recreation is undergoing one of the toughest times in its history. Its superintendent, Tim Gallagher, left May 10 on less-than auspicious terms after it was learned he spent (albeit within his allotted travel expenses) $6,000 on a trip to a conference in Australia. When every department in the city is hemorrhaging, the trip down under wasn't received well, and Gallagher should have at least postponed the trip, even if it was a hollow gesture.
While Parks has an operating budget of $131 million, Mayor Mike McGinn has asked it, and every other department of the city, to cut 3 percent or $2.5 million from its existing budget. The department has already delivered its recommendation to the mayor's office. The mayor's office will make a decision based on the recommendation by June 1 - a furlough day at the Parks Department, which only underscores the gravity of the city's money problems.
Entire closures of parks in Seattle are very unlikely, but not off the table. What is more realistic is a massive reduction in maintenance work, which was not covered by the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy passed by voters. Of 54 projects under the levy, only seven are complete. Restoring the heron rookery at Kiwanis Ravine and the Lawton Park Playground, for example, will be funded, but maintaining them is questionable at this hour. And now, because the City Council nixed maintenance in the Levy language in an effort to assure its passage, Parks appears overextended.
To keep the parks boat afloat, it is delaying recommendations for the $15 million Opportunity Fund, so candidates such as FOLKpark, which is overseeing the redevelopment of Kinnear Park, won't learn if it is being awarded funding until 2011.
Hindsight is 20/20, but in this age of sustainability, for the City Council to omit maintenance in levy funding was a considerable gaff.