Is the Sioux Falls Department of Parks & Recreation a monstrosity?

I compared apples to apples and all I can say is, damn right it is!

I first want to say that Sioux Falls has an amazing park system. But is it all useful? We continue to build new parks when we are not using the current parks we have to capacity. Take Yankton Trail for instance. Rumor has it the city only allows the park for competition, not to be used as a practice facility. Why is that? I have even heard stories of police intimidation if you are using certain parks just for recreation instead of competition. What Up?!

This summer I rode my bike to work almost every day on the bike trail. I found the trail to be well maintained and frequently used, I also found our parks are over manicured, watered, mowed, and maintained (what’s the point of mowing ½” of grass!?).

Why does the parks department and budget continue to grow at such a rapid rate, and what is the solution to slow it down a bit to an acceptable inflationary level? I suggest we stop building new parks for at least two years and do an extensive study on how much our parks are used by monitoring their usages throughout the week and seasons. If certain parks have little usage – we sell off the land. I also suggest we build smaller parks that are easier and less expensive to maintain. I also think we should reduce the size of some of our larger parks. One thing I observed this summer is that smaller parks are more populated. Not sure why? Maybe people feel safer?

I decided to look at another city similar to ours in climate, size and growth. Billings, Montana is two-thirds the size in population to Sioux Falls.

Billings spends $5,714 a year per developed acre of parkland.

Sioux Falls spends $11,546 a year per developed acre of parkland.

Can you imagine if it cost you that much to maintain your lawn every year! Even if you feritlized, watered and paid a lawn service for an acre of land you are still looking at about $2,200

You must also remember, the $33 Million is the 2009 operating budget ONLY! This does not include building and developing new park land, that is in a separate budget called the CIP.

Sioux Falls maintains 4.8 times more parkland than Billings and even if you adjust for the population difference Sioux Falls still maintains 3.22 times more parkland than Billings. Sioux Falls budget is 9.78 times larger than Billings and 6.52 times larger when you adjust for population – Holy Crap! This is pretty amazing considering the similarities between Sioux Falls and Billings. If you go to Billings Parks and Recreation page you will see that they also offer as many activities as Sioux Falls. In Sioux Falls defense we charge visitors a tax to buy stuff here to help fund our parks. In Billings they are not so lucky, they only have a state income tax to work with. Not only does Billings maintain developed acres on such a small budget they also maintain over 2,000 acres of undeveloped parks but they also irrigate their parks like we do, from the river. When I spoke to one of the park’s directors about his operating budget, he said they were underfunded (well duh) but when I told him our budget, he was dumbfounded, as was I when I heard his budget.

What is the problem? My guess is Sioux Falls is paying too much for outside services and over-maintaining. It’s not like Billings is a couple bucks short of us on funding, they are millions and millions of dollars shorter than us. It tells me that Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation is in a constant state of overspending. We can have all the same things we have now, we just need to start shopping at the dollar store.

How has the Parks budget grown to such a massive level without some oversight? That’s just it, there is no oversight or accountability. The Parks board meetings are not televised or broadcast on the city website. The other problem is that the Parks board is all volunteer. I think they need to be elected officials. With a $33 million dollar operating budget a year, they operate almost as a separate entity from the city. In fact, up until a few years ago, the Parks and Rec department made their own decisions on public art, not consulting the Mayor, Council or Visual Arts Commission before placing public art. Kinda takes the word ‘Public’ out of ‘Public Art’.

Once we ask for accountability from our Parks and Rec department not only will you see incredible savings to taxpayers, you will see more CITIZEN friendly parks.



8 comments ↓

#1 Ghost of Dude on 01.09.09 at 8:55 am

Really, the land near the river is no good for anything but park land. It’s a big floodplain.
That we spend so much watering and mowing it all summer is another issue.

#2 l3wis on 01.09.09 at 9:24 am

“Really, the land near the river is no good for anything but park land”

And Shoe Carnival

#3 Ghost of Dude on 01.09.09 at 12:13 pm

What do you suppose would cost more to build and maintain, levees high (and ugly) enough to contain a flood like we had in ’93 or a reasonably maintained system of parks and bike trails near the river – for everyone to use?

#4 l3wis on 01.09.09 at 1:01 pm

Not sure. Probably the parks. But you have to ask yourself, If SF is spending $1,000 more per resident, per year then RC and they are spending twice as much for developed park acre maintenance then Billings – do you think they are managing our money well? I don’t think so. Like I said above, I think some little things could be done to save us money without scrapping all of our parks. You also have to realize that $33 million is operating costs only for one year. When new parks are built that comes out of the CIP not the operating budget. The point is that there is no fiscal responsibility. I think the parks board should be 4 elected officials to make the department more accountable. When the mayor of Newark told his department heads to cut 10-15% this year – they said ‘Yes Sir’. If Munson would do that (ha, ha) the department heads would cry bloody murder. Our next mayor needs to be tough on the city department managers and more responsible to the taxpayers, it’s the exact opposite now.

As for the levees, a guy told me today that the one built just a year ago is already falling a part and all the new asphalt is cracking already. For one, they should have waited a least a year before paving, to let them settle a bit, and secondly I’m suspicious of what kind of dirt is being used. There was a controvery about a year ago that growth was so fast in SF that contractors are running out of quality dirt, so they are using a lesser quality. Makes you wonder what kind of dirt they are using on these levees.

#5 l3wis on 01.09.09 at 1:04 pm

I was gonna say to, there is a lot of crazy crap going on at City Hall, I wish I could post at least a 1/3 of the things I hear about. Maybe it will be a good discussion topic at the next South DaCola Fest.

BTW- Warren, I was right, the SF City calendar was printed on a heatset web press in Iowa.

#6 Bob Dobolina on 01.20.09 at 9:22 pm

The parks in SF are awesome, but the park and rec budget includes ALL culture in SF, the zoo, Wash Pav, Siouxland Museums, etc. The difference between SF and Billings is that the parks make SF a great place to live. Have you ever been to Billings? It’s a crap hole. It’s almost a big a crap hole as Fargo, which has a smaller park and rec budget than Billings.

#7 l3wis on 01.21.09 at 5:19 am

“park and rec budget includes ALL culture in SF, the zoo, Wash Pav, Siouxland Museums, etc”

Where do you get your info? The Parks operating budget comes out of the general fund. Not the CIP or Entertainment tax fund. The Pav, The zoo, Museums have separate budgets. Yes, our parks are great, but I hardly think spending $11,500 a year to mow one acre of land is fiscally responsible, especially since there is no oversight of the parks board.

#8 18feet on 02.23.14 at 2:17 pm

having lived in both of these cities I will hands down say that Sioux Falls parks are far superior to Billings. Sioux Falls “over-grooming” in their parks make the city presentable and attractive to both the citizens and tourist community of the city. Plus the types and sizes of parks we have are far more attractive and provide people with places to go and things to do in Sioux Falls : Sertoma park Bitterfly House, the Sioux Falls at Falls Park, the walking trails and duck ponds at Arrowhead Park, the various swimming pools in our beautiful parks, ice skating rinks, city owned golf courses, the city Zoo, our historical points…Billings has nothing like these (or didn’t when I was there). Billing’s compared to Sioux Falls is a dirty city and also isn’t nearly as highly ranked in American cities withhigh tankings in well-being as Sioux Falls is. the fact that we spend more contributes to the fact that our city is incredibly happy and healthy. Giving our citizens all of these options and places to be also contributes to the fact that we have lower crime rates and higher tourism rates than Billings. I think your comparison city was poorly chosen as to seeing Billing amd Sioux Falls really have very little in common. Billings doesn’t really compare to Sioux Falls in the places where parks and rec would matter.

Leave a Comment