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 Â½â€ 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 â€“ 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.