By: Sharon Aron Baron
Still frustrated after our 2013 budget was adopted and parks in Tamarac were not opening every Monday just as they were prior to 2010, I contacted our city manager to inquire what the costs would be to open them. According to the city manager, he couldn’t give me an amount to operate the parks one additional day and told me the item would be discussed in January at the strategic planning meeting. His answers are below.
I wish it was as easy as simply giving you a number. – City Manager Michael Cernech
Tamarac Talk: Michael, regarding the 2014 proposed budget, I’m disappointed, make that outraged, that as a taxpayer, I’m being shortchanged on a service that I’m paying for in my millage rate. Namely my parks still being closed most Mondays.
For the 4th year in a row, our parks are not open to their full capacity for our residents, yet our millage rate has not gone down.
I’m even more disappointed in our Mayor and commissioners to not have enough fight in them to demand that they open. With the Mayor giving the excuse that our parks need a “rest” on Mondays, or something to that effect. Because no other city’s parks need rests except ours.
City Manager Michael Cernech: Sharon, I expect the Mayor and City Commission will address the issue of Parks, including Parks closures, at the annual strategic planning session which should happen in January.
Parks topics will include the operational impact of bringing Mainland’s Park online, additional lighting in existing parks to expand the hours of operation in the “winter” months, the status of Water’s Edge Park, and other operational issues impacting the organization and community.
Tamarac Talk: If closing parks was a cost savings in 2010, then you should know what those cost savings are. The city was able to propose they are open five to six Mondays in 2014 for school holidays, so this figure must be figured into the budget. Please share what those are or maybe (Finance Director) Mark Mason can share these with me? I’d really like to know what operational costs are.
City Manager Michael Cernech: I wish it was as easy as simply giving you a number. The decision to close the parks on Mondays was made at a time when a number of structural and organizational changes were implemented to cut expenses. Parks maintenance was moved to Public Works, Public Works was then merged with Utilities to form Public Services and at the same time a voluntary separation program was implemented for employees with a certain amount of tenure in the organization. This allowed us to eliminate a layer of management in the parks department and several redundant supervisory positions. A hiring freeze was also in place at that time which allowed us to reduce the number of positions within the organization and reorganize a number of functions, including parks maintenance. With fewer people to do the maintenance it became necessary to have the parks closed to gain the needed operational efficiencies which we have done. The reduction in expense from the actions I have described was well over $1,000,000 and spread over three separate actions, each building on the next and the parks closures were an intended consequence of the overall expense reductions.
Re-opening the parks on Mondays is a function of adding additional staff and changing the maintenance schedule. This action needs to be coordinated with the City Commission as we move forward with improving the Parks system. It will have both an operational and financial impact, but it will serve to improve our Parks system which is why I believe the Mayor and City Commission will support it when we get to the strategic planning meetings with them in January. At that time we will be able to outline what the component costs are.
Once those costs are identified and presented to the Mayor and Commission they can choose a direction they believe to be in the best interest of Tamarac.