City’s Parks Alliance to council: ‘Show us the money’

With parks play­ing such a cru­cial role in life in our neigh­bor­hoods, where's the money to help fund them?

Where is the money that the city prom­ised to the Parks and Re­cre­ation de­part­ment?

That’s what mem­bers of city coun­cil and the Phil­adelphia Parks Al­li­ance asked dur­ing a gath­er­ing at City Hall on Wed­nes­day, May 16.

Four years ago, the city ap­proved a 20 per­cent tax on park­ing charges for any­one us­ing a gar­age or park­ing struc­ture in Phil­adelphia.

The de­part­ment nev­er saw a penny of these funds.

To sup­port loc­al parks, neigh­bors have partnered with area busi­nesses, like at Het­zell’s play­ground at Thompson Street and Columbia Av­en­ue, where ad­vert­ising has helped de­fray costs.

But John Con­solvo, vice pres­id­ent of the Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation—who was in at­tend­ance last week—said that while out­side fund­ing worked at Het­zell’s play­ground, he sup­por­ted the Parks Al­li­ance’s push for new fund­ing be­cause in the river­wards, parks mean so much to the com­munity.

“When you live in the city, you don’t have yards. So, where else are you go­ing to meet?” he asked.

“Parks mean com­munity,” agreed FNA’s Kristie Landry.

The funds gen­er­ated through the park­ing tax were meant to be set aside for the Parks and Re­cre­ation de­part­ments – the two de­part­ments that merged in 2010 – and, ac­cord­ing to num­bers presen­ted by the Phil­adelphia Parks Al­li­ance last week, would have provided about $8 mil­lion to the city’s parks.

In­stead, that money went in­to the city’s gen­er­al fund. This park­ing tax is still col­lec­ted and the money still goes in­to the gen­er­al fund.

Last week, Lauren Born­friend, dir­ect­or of the Phil­adelphia Parks Al­li­ance, lamen­ted the loss of fund­ing and asked coun­cil mem­bers to take a hard look at the parks’ budget.

“[Parks and Re­cre­ation] has suffered dec­ades of neg­lect and now, four years of broken prom­ises,” she told a gathered audi­ence last Wed­nes­day.

Born­friend said that the fund­ing isn’t enough to sup­port the 609 em­ploy­ees of the de­part­ment, who need to main­tain 156 re­cre­ation­al fa­cil­it­ies, 254 play­grounds, 405 ball fields, 465 bas­ket­ball courts, 70 pools, 220 miles of trails and oth­er con­cerns spread across Phil­adelphia’s more than 10,000 acres of parks.

Next year’s pro­posed budget for the de­part­ment — cur­rently set at $47.8 mil­lion — she said, is ac­tu­ally less than the pro­posed fig­ure, as it in­cludes about $2.1 mil­lion that the de­part­ment pre­vi­ously re­ceived from oth­er sources.

She re­minded those in at­tend­ance that in 2009, May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter and City Coun­cil ap­proved a $56 mil­lion op­er­at­ing budget for Parks and Re­cre­ation.

In­stead, due to the eco­nom­ic down­turn, next year’s budget would ac­tu­ally amount to about $45.7 mil­lion – one of the low­est in the last ten years.

Sev­er­al coun­cil­mem­bers, in­clud­ing Mark Squilla (D-1st dist.) were in at­tend­ance at last week’s event to find ways to bridge the parks’ “sig­ni­fic­ant fund­ing gap.”

Coun­cil­man Squilla had an idea of his own in or­der to raise the ad­di­tion­al fund­ing for the de­part­ment.

He looked at park­ing to raise funds, but this time fo­cus­ing on park­ing vi­ol­a­tions. He sug­ges­ted an ad­di­tion­al $2 sur­charge to park­ing tick­ets, which would bring in about $2 mil­lion a year in new fund­ing.

However, due to a park­ing fine sur­charge that’s already on the books, rev­en­ue from any sur­charge to PPA fines might need to be split between the School Dis­trict and the city’s gen­er­al fund.

Squilla said his of­fice has heard “con­flict­ing leg­al opin­ions” about what would hap­pen with any funds gen­er­ated through his idea for a $2 sur­charge on park­ing tick­ets.

He said his of­fice is now look­ing in­to this is­sue.

“If we do not fix this now, things will just cost double, triple to fix down the road,” he said of the Parks and Rec. budget.

Squilla said any­one with ideas is wel­come to con­tact his of­fice with pro­pos­als to raise fund­ing for the Parks and Rec. de­part­ment.

Star Staff Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be con­tac­ted at 215-354-3124 or hmit­

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