Preliminary budget quickly passes; cuts to Parks & Rec |

Preliminary budget quickly passes; cuts to Parks & Rec

Michael Schneider

While it often takes the state months after its deadline to pass a fiscal year budget, the city of South Lake Tahoe did it in one day.

Well, it wasn’t actually done in one day, but rather a continual process worked on all year, according to City Manager Kerry Miller.

Council member Kevin Cole said another reason for the easy preliminary budget approval process were difficult decisions and a major revamping of the city budget last year as part of the Destination 2000 process.

Destination 2000 was a process the city undertook last year to consolidate and eliminate certain departments and jobs to save money. Instead of six departments, the city now has three “super” departments with only three department heads.

After taking public comment on where services can be cut, city officials decided that the Parks and Recreation Department was the least needed by city residents, thus it was the hardest hit.

Last year’s Parks and Recreation cuts dealt mostly with the reduction of staff employees. This year, the department is trying to wade its way though its duties with about $100,000 less of an operating budget.

Recreation Superintendent Judy Crawford spoke to the council at a Tuesday morning budget hearing, telling of department woes in dealing with a reduced budget. The department now relies more on fees.

“We can only make money with nice weather,” Crawford said, telling the council another bad spring would hurt revenues for next year. “We hope we have a better fall to recoup some money.

“In a way we’re kind of like farmers. We depend on the weather,”

Parks Superintendent Steve Weiss told the council the department has had to do more reactive landscaping rather than doing it in a proactive manner as in years past.

“It’s led to a decline in service and it has a compacting effect,” Weiss said, describing how ball fields hadn’t been mowed in a week due to a broken lawn mower.

“When it was fixed it took twice as long to cut the grass,” he said. “It was twice as much work.”

“We just don’t have the the staff, particularly in our seasonal staff,” he said, pointing to an increase in graffiti as a result of a reduced staff.

“We’re trying to do the best we can, but the community doesn’t understand the hits we’ve taken,” Crawford said.

Kevin Cole said he didn’t like the idea of cutting the department’s budget, but felt the people had spoken.

“Parks and Rec. was not considered a highest priority by the community. That’s kind of sad,” he said. “Maybe the community will realize what we’ve seen for some time and step up to the plate and support Parks and Recreation.”

Kevin Cole said the key to a healthy economy, which would support an increased Parks and Recreation Department, is city redevelopment.

“That’s what attracts tourists, our only community industry,” he said.

Council member Margo Osti said she thought an increase in Parks and Recreation could lead to a healthier economy.

“Gaming is no longer the ticket,” Osti said. “We need to diversify ourselves. “Recreation is more than ‘What did you do Sunday with the kids.’ It’s an economic livelihood and we’re not taking care of it and we should be ashamed of ourselves.”

Mayor Hal Cole said it wasn’t Parks and Recreation, but rather the Police Department, that took the biggest financial hit overall. The police department has a greater yearly budget, however.

“There are no sacred cows, everyone’s taking a hit,” he said.

The final budget will be before the council Sept. 15.

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