What makes Astoria great? For many, it’s the city’s 310 acres of parks, trails and natural areas. Astoria’s parks are close to just about any resident, city businesses, and area schools. They provide recreation access to every one of all ages and abilities. Our residents enjoy everything from ball fields, to neighborhood spaces, to historic sites. Best of all, they let residents and visitors connect with each other and their neighbors.
Over the past 40 years, Astorians have shown how much they treasure Astoria’s park land, by building 42 new parks. In 1996, residents showed how much they value health, wellness, and recreation by passing a $2.95 million-dollar bond and fundraising $600,000 to build the Astoria Aquatic Center. Astoria has also increased community recreation services by adding and expanding athletic leagues and tournaments, youth programs, adding health and wellness programs, community and family events, a community garden, Port of Play, and filling an important community need for quality childcare with Lil’ Sprouts Academy. These services have increased Astoria’s livability and made Astoria a desirable place for families, adults, seniors, and youth.
All told, Astoria’s number of parks have increased by 60%, and recreation services have quadrupled over the past 40 years all while full-time employees have decreased by 50%. That means, currently, 3 full-time maintenance employees are maintaining 310 acres - that’s 103 acres of park land per employee, with an annual maintenance expense of $1,800 per acre. In comparison, similar cities in Oregon have an average of 32 acres per full-time employee and an annual maintenance expense of $4,436 per acre. That means Astoria has a growing list of unmet operational and maintenance needs for parks and that the Aquatic Center and recreational services are being provided without sufficient staffing levels.
Today, Astoria primarily maintains its parks with general tax dollars. This is the main source of dollars for City Government, which also funds: the Astoria Police, Fire, Community Development, the Public Library and City Financial services. Because these are essential City services, they cannot be reduced to fund parks and recreation needs, which has resulted in a decrease from 12% to 7% of the city’s tax dollars allocated to the Parks and Recreation Department.
To offset this decrease, Astoria Parks and Recreation staff have worked hard to reduce costs, increase efficiency and generate additional revenue. For example, the Aquatic Center used to operate with the oversight of four full-time employees. Whereas, today, the Aquatic Center operates with only 1 full-time employee. This change, combined with other reductions, has reduced the annual Aquatic Center subsidy from over $400,000 to $175,000. This same scenario is also true for the Department’s Administration, Recreation, and Maintenance Divisions. Staff have increased efficiency by replacing out of date high energy consuming equipment, with energy efficient equipment, incorporated an online point of sale and recreation management system to streamline efficiencies, provide better customer service, while increasing revenue and decreasing staffing costs. These changes have generated an additional 43% or $450,000 dollars annually in additional revenue over the past 10 years resulting in a decrease to the deficit gap between available tax funds and funding needed to maintain our facilities.
Yet, currently, additional funding is needed this year; and even more in future years, as costs continue to rise, and our 310 acres of park land, the Aquatic Center, and recreation services continue to need maintenance and repair, and critical staffing to keep them safe, attractive and open for our community. But where will this additional funding come from? Currently the Astoria City Council is evaluating a variety of additional revenue sources to support Parks and Recreation operations and maintenance costs.
Here’s how you can help! Go outside and play in our wonderful parks and facilities, take a class, swim at the pool, or register for an activity. Then, talk with your friends, family and community about the importance of health and wellness, parks, recreation, and open spaces and how Astoria Parks and Recreation creates a healthier, happier, stronger Astoria. Lastly, stay engaged. We are currently evaluating a variety of funding sources to help keep our vital facilities and services available.
A link to our video can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qf7pzGCXfo