Mayor Chris Beutler said today that preliminary results from the recent Taking Charge budget survey showed tremendous support for the Parks and Recreation Department with respondents giving top rankings to both neighborhood swimming pools and the repair and replacement budget for park facilities. More than 2,300 surveys were completed, and about 58 people attended half-day Community Conversation.
"It's not hard to understand why the public supports our Parks and Recreation services," Mayor Beutler said. "They play an important role in public safety, with Community Learning Centers, recreation center programs, pools and sports providing our kids with positive ways to stay out of trouble. Parks, trails, and sports fields provide opportunities for the type of active lifestyles that improve health. They help maintain property values and provide the amenities that make Lincoln such a great place to live. And our trails are an increasingly important means of recreation and transportation for many Lincoln citizens."
For the portion of the survey that focused on current spending priorities, respondents were given $500,000 to spend on eight current programs with a total cost of about $2 million. The programs were chosen for the survey because they rank as lower priority compared to other City services.
About 55 percent of the respondents indicated that the City should either raise taxes or both cut programs and raise taxes.
For the portion of the survey that focused on future needs, respondents were asked to rate and rank five priority projects. Parks capital replacement and repair was rated and ranked as the most important of the five priorities. South Beltway construction, StarTran service expansion and Bennett Martin Library replacement and branch library repair finished second through fourth, while golf capital replacement and repair rated and ranked fifth.
The Parks and Recreation 10-year facilities plan identifies a $1.7 million gap between projected funding and what needs to be spent on repair, replacement and maintenance. The Mayor's proposed budget cuts that gap nearly in half by adding $800,000 per year for these projects - an additional $400,000 from the General Fund and an additional $400,000 from increased Keno revenue.
"Regular repair and replacement of capital assets are essential elements in the Parks and Recreation Department's contributions to our quality of life," Beutler said. "You simply cannot provide the programming that keeps kids safe, supports good health, strengthens neighborhoods, and moves people without maintaining the playground equipment, rec centers, trails, parking lots and restrooms that supports these programs."
Beutler said it's important to protect the public's investment in Parks and Recreation assets, especially where repairs now can prevent more costly damage and repairs in the future. The department's assets include 321 structures with roofs, including 79 picnic shelters and 37 restrooms; 89 playgrounds; nine pools, including six that are more than 50 years old; 25 lighted ballfields and 66 backstops; seven recreation centers; 174 miles of trails; 560 park benches; 131 bridges; 97 drinking fountains; and 1,000 light poles.
Parks and Recreation Director Lynn Johnson said the goal is to replace 22 playgrounds over the next six years. Additional funding in the Mayor's proposed budget will allow repair and maintenance projects across the City, including the following:
The City has partnered with the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center (PPC) since 2008 on the Taking Charge process, which has included surveys and public meetings. The final Taking Charge budget survey report will be available at lincoln.ne.gov (taking charge).