From Council Chambers: A Voice for Parks
On Monday, May 11th, Park Pride’s Executive Director, Michael Halicki, addressed the Atlanta City Council in Council Chambers during a public hearing for the FY2018 budget. A condensed version of his comments appears below:
Today, I am here to speak in support of funding for park maintenance for City of Atlanta parks. I come to you on behalf of the residents of the City of Atlanta, the Friends of the Park groups and the thousands of volunteers we work with annually. I also come to you on behalf of Park Pride’s foundation funders; in 2016, Park Pride leveraged $560,000 of foundation dollars to bring over $4 million in park improvements to City of Atlanta parks. These funders support capital improvements in City of Atlanta parks with the understanding that those investments will be maintained by the city over time. The assurance for these investments comes each year through the budget process.
Over the past four years that I have been at Park Pride, I have seen incremental increases in the annual budget for the Department of Parks & Recreation. This year is no exception. The FY2018 budget for the department (which includes the Civic Center) is $35.8 million and reflects a $1.1 million (3.25%) increase over the past year. These additional dollars will fund needed staff positions within the department.
We commend the current administration’s commitment to parks, trails and greenspace. We have seen and have been a part of the creation of new parks in different parts of the city. We have seen a commitment to the Atlanta BeltLine and to improving existing parks.
However, as we look to the future, there is a big issue that requires analysis:
The FY2018 budget of $35.8 million is a 20-year highwater mark, though it is worth mentioning that the budget in 1997 was $35.6 million, which is nearly at current levels though with a much smaller parks inventory. The thing to bear in mind is the effect of inflation. A dollar had far greater purchasing power in 1997 than it does today. When factoring in for inflation, 1997 levels of funding for the parks department provided an equivalent of $54 million in present dollars, suggesting a 53% decrease in the department’s purchasing power from 1997 to 2017.
While funding for parks has not kept pace with inflation, there has at the same time been an increase in the parks inventory. From 2010 -2017, the parks inventory has grown from 3,754 acres to 4,805 acres – a 26% increase!
Further, not only has Atlanta increased its park acreage, it has also increased in population, and the City of Atlanta’s 2016 Comprehensive Development Plan projects that the growth will continue exponentially through at least 2040. As we grow in population, we will need to add park acreage to maintain the quality of life we enjoy because of greenspace. As we add parks, we will need to increase funding for park maintenance.
These upward trends will stretch our parks department to its breaking point unless we can increase the budget for parks and park maintenance through a sizable reset to meet the needs of the future. As we move forward into the next administration, I believe it is time for big thinking and big ideas for parks, greenspace and trails to ensure we achieve a world class park system for Atlanta residents. To do so, we must elevate the conversation not just as it relates to what we build and what we preserve, but how we maintain it.
I hope you’ll join Park Pride and partners at the Mayoral Candidate Forum on Greenspace. You’ll hear Atlanta’s mayoral candidates discuss their views on parks, trees, greenspace and watersheds, and the way Atlanta’s emerging trail network is creating a new way of living in the City of Atlanta. Registration is required!
Mayoral Candidate Forum on Greenspace
Thursday, July 13, 2017 | 6 – 7:30 PM
The Carter Center
Data were collected from recent1 and archived2 budget documents published by the City of Atlanta and available online. In cases where reported figures differed year to year, the most recently published number was used. To account for change in buying power over time, budget amounts, rounded to the nearest $100,000, were adjusted to 2017 dollars using the U.S Inflation Calculator3.
1. United States. City of Atlanta. Office of Budget & Fiscal Policy. City of Atlanta, GA Budget. Atlanta, Georgia: City of Atlanta. http://www.atlantaga.gov/index.aspx?page=204.
2. United States. City of Atlanta. Office of Budget & Fiscal Policy. City of Atlanta, GA Budget. Atlanta, Georgia: City of Atlanta. http://www.atlantaga.gov/index.aspx?page=212.
3. Admin. “US Inflation Calculator.” US Inflation Calculator. Accessed January 23, 2017. http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/.