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posted July 7, 2005

STAFFING THE PARK

In 2005 we had as many really hot days in June as in all of last summer. Park staff opened the wading pool when it was 28 degrees or hotter, and people came from all over the city to cool off in our shady park. Our park staff got very tired from being so busy, although they also got a lot of compliments from happy park users.

Our park has become like a very busy community centre without walls (which means there are a great many interesting things to watch). A community centre with walls costs about $600,000 a year to run. Without walls it’s cheaper – we only need about $120,000 this year. But we only have $80,000 in our budget, and the park manager says they can’t find us any more. They’re right: even though the annual parks budget is over $200 million, it’s all committed. (That’s why, for all those days in June when it was over 30 degrees, almost no other wading pools were open in the City – no money for staffing. )

We’ve been puzzled for years about where the money goes. One thing we wonder about is the cost of paying so many consultants and planners. An example: a simple fence installed last year around Dovercourt Park playground cost $50,000, of which almost $10,000 seems to have been just for designing and project management fees. On a larger scale, the City appears to have hired a very large American company to figure out how City rinks can save energy (something that City staff can perhaps figure out for themselves). Parks and Recreation is on the hook for paying $1.3 million for this project this coming year – using money from the operating budget. But how to find that money is a problem. A shorter rink season? No extended swimming hours? Close Rec centers during school holidays?

We think it’s time to examine some of these spending decisions as a community. For that, we need better information – always a tricky thing to get. We’ve begun to compile a list of consultant spending, with the help of many, many freedom of information applications and appeals. As the information comes in, it gets posted on the park web site research page. With this information, let the public conversation begin!


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