Broken tree branches, cracked sidewalks, cluttered paths. These issues should be routine maintenance. But with the uncertainty of proper funding to the Parks and Recreation Department, these problems could continue to increase and spiral out of control.
On April 17, members of the Friends of Clark Park joined with 250 enraged citizens inside City Council Chambers, demanding the restoration of $8 million of funding that was promised to the Department of Parks and Recreation by Mayor Michael Nutter. The Philadelphia Parks Alliance helped to bring advocates together, including representatives of the Friends of Clark Park, in an effort to reverse decades of underfunding, and systematic neglect toward the Parks and Recreation Department.
In 2008, Mayor Nutter’s first budget proposal called for the first increase in funding for the Department of Parks and Recreation in decades. To help pay for this increased funding, Nutter proposed an increase in the parking tax level.
“Because the city of Philadelphia’s parking tax was low compared to other cities across the country, Mayor Nutter proposed that the level increase from 15 percent to 20 percent. He promised that quite a bit of the increase would be directed toward the Parks funding. He asked the Parks Alliance to help get that passed through. So we rallied and called for the increase in the parking tax in the hope that the Parks funding would be increased,” Parks Alliance Executive Director Lauren Bornfriend said.
The Philadelphia Parks Alliance is an independent nonprofit organization that seeks to champion the public’s interest in outstanding parks, recreation and open spaces. The Parks Alliance and park advocates fought and City Council did pass the parking tax increase but the funding for the parks has yet to appear.
During the City Council hearing on April 17, council members asked City Budget Director Rebecca Rhynhart what happened to the tax revenue generated from the parking tax increase that the council had approved.
“It isn’t dedicated to Parks and Recreation because we needed it to support the general fund,” Rhynhart said.
Bornfriend and advocates of the parks are frustrated and baffled by the redirecting of money promised to them to the general fund.
“The money is going into a big pool and we have no idea where the money is going. The budget director said it is going into the general fund. But the real issue is that Parks and Recreation
needs that money to help pay for maintenance, programming, more staff members, less deferred maintenance and higher quality amenities,” Bornfriend said.
The $8 million promised to The Parks and Recreation Department would help to enrich and maintain all the parks around the city. For the Friends of Clark Park, that funding is essential for the enrichment and maintenance of Clark Park. For senior members such as Tony West, the fight for proper funding has been raging for decades. West is a longtime journalist and the large events planner for the organization. He has written and witnessed the struggles that Clark Park has had to endure over the years due to poor city funding.
“Philadelphia has for two generations methodically and bizarrely underfunded its Parks and Recreation department compared to every other major northeastern city. A policy issue has worked its way into city government that trees don’t vote. Every time a funding issue comes up it seems like the answer is to go raid the parks funding and give it to other programs. There is no money budgeted in this system for maintenance, or future development. Overall general maintenance is vital for the safety for the people who use the park,” West said.
The City of Philadelphia’s five year strategic plans for the fiscal years of 2009 through 2013 clearly show a dramatic decrease in funding for Parks and Recreation. Over the past four years Parks and Recreation has received $43 million less than what was originally promised. If the budget is not amended, the mayor’s current proposed budget will be one of the lowest Parks and Recreation budgets in the last 10 years. An amendment to the budget is what Bornfriend and Parks advocates are demanding that City Council considers.
“We are delighted that council members are voicing support. Now we need them to amend the budget with $8 million restored to Parks and Recreation,” Bornfriend said.
And members of the Friends of Clark Park would welcome the funding.
“It will be very welcomed. We could accomplish a lot of good things for the park with that money. Maintenance and projects that we have been fundraising for could become a reality, said Erin Engelstad, president of the Friends of Clark Park.
For truly passionate park advocates such as Bornfriend, the funding is not only important, but essential to the well- being and health of the city.
“When our parks are well funded and well maintain it gives our citizens a higher quality of life. It makes our city healthier and greener. It will improve tourism as more people are likely to visit a city with a vibrant park system as opposed to a city with a lot of maintenance issues. If we care about the future of our children we will work toward improving the parks and recreation system,” Bornfriend said.