Advocates push for more Austin park spending


Austin park advocates are asking the city to increase spending for parks by $4.75 million a year.

A coalition of groups, called Great Austin Parks, formed this year to build support for additional spending for the Parks and Recreation Department, which they say does not have the resources to properly maintain the city’s parks.

“The department’s staff are hard-working and competent,” said Susan Plettman Rankin, executive director of the nonprofit The Trail Foundation, a member of the coalition. “We just need more of them.”

The department’s annual $52.1 million budget has increased from $35.7 million three years ago, but the growth hasn’t kept pace with the demand for services, the advocates say.

The $4.75 million proposed increase would focus on four areas: trees, trails, pools and general maintenance, with the largest portion, $1.5 million, going to maintenance and planting of trees.

At current funding levels, staffers for the department’s Urban Forestry Program cannot remove dead trees fast enough, give proper care to trees or plant new trees to replace the dying ones, said Richard Craig, chair of the Pease Park Conservancy, a member of Great Austin Parks.

There’s a backlog of hundreds of trees slated for removal, said Angela Hanson, Urban Forestry Program manager.

“We haven’t gotten to them because we’re chasing other issues and dealing with emergencies,” such as fallen trees blocking streets, Hanson said.

With current staffing levels, Urban Forestry staffers visit one of the 300,000 trees under their jurisdiction about once every 90 years. The national standard is one visit every five to seven years, but most cities the size of Austin average a visit every 20 years.

This gets in the way of regular maintenance, like pruning, that can prevent decay.

Members of the coalition plan to meet with City Council members before discussions about the 2013-14 budget begin next month.

The funding recommendation includes $1.25 million for trail maintenance.

“If trails are properly maintained and repaired, it’s actually more cost efficient” than going out more often to do it because there’s not enough staff, Plettman Rankin said.

The plan would also allocate $1 million to keep all city pools open for the same amount of hours. Another $1 million would go to general maintenance tasks such as the removal of trash and graffiti.


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