In light of a significant projected gap in funding for the Parks, Recreation and Waterfront department, Berkeley City Council is looking for various ways to support the department, including taxes or bond measures.
The department’s parks tax fund, used to maintain city parks and community centers, among other recreational facilities, faces a fiscal crisis. The overall capital needed for the fund in the next five years stands around $43 million, while the parks tax fund currently provides $10 million, leaving $33.1 million unfunded, said Scott Ferris, acting director of the department, at a special council meeting last Tuesday.
Additionally, funds for particular projects, such as the Berkeley Rose Garden Walkway and James Kenney Community Center, are in serious need of attention, Ferris said.
“There is an anticipated $4.1 million worth of projects while there is only a dedicated $1 million worth of funding, leaving a gap of $3.14 million,” Ferris said.
With the amount of upkeep necessary in coming years for popular areas like the Berkeley Marina and regular city facilities, the lack of funding will begin to present a challenge to the department possibly as soon as next year, Ferris added.
“If we continue to spend at this rate, the fund balance will essentially be exhausted by the end of fiscal year 2014,” Ferris said.
In the council’s discussion of possible plans, Ferris proposed potential budget-balancing strategies, such as eliminating vacant positions or raising taxes. Ferris added that the division has begun analysis for a possible park tax increase for 2014.
The council brainstormed a number of possibilities to solve these funding issues, including the establishment of a hotel at the Berkeley Marina to bring in revenue.
Councilmember Gordon Wozniak suggested advocating for a bond measure dealing with some of the capital costs, among other less conventional measures.
“I think we need to have a look at some maybe politically controversial decisions,” Wozniak said. “Could we contract out and reduce our costs? Considering all of the costs … can we really sustain all the parks and structures we have?”
For the division, however, the additional funding remains critical due to the current decay of many of Berkeley’s facilities.
“We have play structures that are old and deteriorating,” Ferris said. “Many parks and facilities need improved access for people with disabilities. Many of our sport court surfaces are cracked and uneven. Our walkways are damaged and deteriorating, and our plumbing, electrical and heating systems are old and require constant repair.”
The council will reconvene in May with the department to further discuss the division’s fiscal state and possible solutions, Ferris said.