Austin's parks are getting a long-needed infusion of cash. This week, the City Council added $1 million to the budget of the Parks and Recreation Dept., to be spent on operating and maintaining the nearly 200 parks in the city. The council also approved an additional $1.8 million for park upgrades; those will include swimming pool renovations, building repairs, playscape improvements, and work on Springdale Park and Colony Park.
The budget increase was welcomed by Austin Parks Tomorrow, a recently formed group that lobbied the council hard in recent weeks to get more funds for the city's 24,000 acres of parks and preserves. Since 1986, the city's funding for operating and maintaining parks and preserves has remained relatively constant, at about $8 million per year, even though the amount of acreage controlled by the city has more than doubled over that period. According to figures compiled by the group, Austin spends far less than other Texas cities on maintenance of its parks. San Antonio spends over $2,000 per acre on park maintenance. Dallas and Houston both spend about $1,000 an acre. Austin spends just $360 per acre.
A similar funding problem exists with park police. In 1987, the city had 36 officers patrolling its parks. Today, it has 40. But (as mentioned above) the amount of territory they must cover has more than doubled. Today, those officers are responsible for patrolling a vast amount of territory: They cover 15,000 acres of parks, 9,000 acres of preserve land, two dozen greenbelts, 40 miles of shoreline on three different lakes and 45 miles of hike-and-bike trails.
Robert Fernea, the chair of Austin Parks Tomorrow, applauded the council's decision to increase parks funding, saying the group is "glad for what was delivered." But Fernea and the other members of the group aren't finished. They want the council to increase funding for park maintenance by $1.5 million for each of the next four years. "We'll come back next year," Fernea said.