Restore Parks Funding in Budget by Barbara Falsey

Everyone understands that these are tough times. Everyone understands that the County’s budget faces challenges. What everyone may not understand is that the proposed cuts to the Park and Recreation Budget will affect services in the short term and the sustainability of parks and recreation into the future. These cuts undermine the ability of parks to spur economic development through tourism, and by simply attracting and keeping families and businesses in Miami-Dade County. These cuts also threaten our quality of life by degrading the everyday pleasures that the beauty and wide range of opportunities for play and relaxation parks provide.

Everyone has cherished memories of time spent in parks – on picnics, playing ball, swimming and splashing in the ocean or in a pool, dropping our children off for an after-school program, taking our parents and grandparents to programs where they meet and interact with others. When we travel we go out of our way to see the beautiful parks and public spaces in the communities we visit. When we are at home, and especially in times when “stay”cations are replacing vacations away from home, we look forward to taking time to ride bikes, go to playgrounds with our children, play golf, go fishing, climb trees, lie in the grass, have picnics, listen to music, in safe and clean open areas.

All of those experiences are threatened by budget cuts that will reduce park programs, reduce maintenance of fields and park buildings and bathrooms, reduce the care of our precious natural areas, and threaten the long-term future of one of this county’s most important assets – its parks. The Department operates and manages over 258 properties – from the Deering Estate, to the Zoo, to Hauolver and Crandon Beaches, to natural areas and the local parks in neighborhoods that provide sports and recreation programs to families throughout the entire county. The programs and facilities offered at these parks are part of the County’s arsenal in the fight against childhood obesity, juvenile delinquency, neighborhood disintegration and environmental degradation.

The proposed budget threatens all of this. It calls for a $22 million dollar reduction and the elimination of 222 full time positions and of part time positions that make up the equivalent of an additional 202 full time positions. These reductions mean less park security, and reduced maintenance for playgrounds, pools, playing fields and tennis courts. The budget proposes to shut down any after-school, sports or senior program that does not “pay for itself” through fees and charges and it reduces nature center and environmental programming to a pay as you go activity. All of these draconian measures are proposed just at a time when more and more people are turning to parks for an affordable and safe way to spend time. It simply makes no sense and unless some funding is restored to the Parks Department, this budget will compromise the quality of our lives and our environment now and in the future.

It is not too late to raise our voices. On September 3 the Board of County Commissioners will hold a full public hearing and cast a first vote on both the budget and the tax rate. Two weeks later they will hold a final public hearing and vote to approve the budget for the fiscal year that starts on October. There is still time for us to rally to make sure that our parks and vital park programs are protected.

Parks are civic spaces – not pay as you go enterprises. Neglecting grounds and facilities and natural areas now will cost us more in the future to repair and restore – if repair is possible. The loss of quality time spent with children, with our families, with each other in beautiful and freely available public parks can never be restored. Write your Commissioners and the Mayor – let them know how important parks are to you and that it is unacceptable to compromise them.

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