Why are parks and libraries so often the first to go?

Photo by Melanie Hicken

In the era of gaping municipal budget holes, parks and library patrons are some of the biggest losers.

In Glendale, Calif., where I worked as a City Hall beat reporter, nearly 50% of budget cuts outlined in an initial proposal last summer came from the city’s library and community service and parks departments. You can check out my article here.

While constituent pressure helped prevent the closure of two libraries, the majority of the other proposed cuts were approved. In the budget’s aftermath, all open space programming in the city’s hillsides and family festivals at the city’s parks were just a few of the city parks offerings left on the cutting room floor.

And unfortunately, similar cuts can be seen on both the local and state level across the country.

Take Montclair, N.J. where funding reductions last year forced the closure of a library branch, layoffs of a quarter of the library’s systems staff and reduced hours at the main branch, as reported by the Newark Star Ledger.

“This is not a cut we wanted to do,” Township Administrator Marc Dashfield told the Ledger in January. “But based on what our statutory obligations are and those to our taxpayers, we just had to make these cuts.”

Or St. Paul, Minnesota where parks officials will have to make do with $1 million less in funding this fiscal year, according to the Star Tribune.

Additional cuts are coming down at many state levels. According to a July New York Times article, the “vast majority” of states have cut park financing since the recession hit in 2008.

The effects have been significant.

“Many (parks) are imposing steep new fees, leaning ever more heavily on volunteers and, in one ominous effort to raise money, even pushing to drill for oil and gas beneath hiking trails and picnic pavilions.”

Some of the steepest cuts can be seen in California, where state officials led by Gov. Jerry Brown in May announced plans to close up to 70 of 278 state parks.

“These cuts are unfortunate, but the state’s current budget crisis demands tough decisions be made,” Resources Secretary John Laird said in a press release.

To me, it seems like some of these parks and library funding cuts are band-aids on much larger structural budget issues.  And in many cases, they are bearing an out of whack brunt of budget cuts in comparison to their generally small slice of the budget pie.

There is no magic bullet to solving municipal budget crises. But is shuttering important civic offerings really the way to go?

I don’t think so.

Still, it’s not all bad news. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog post later this week on some innovative steps that parks supporters are taking to save some of these important green spaces.

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2 Responses to Why are parks and libraries so often the first to go?

  1. M. G. R. says:

    Provocative argument, and the linked L.A. Times article illustrates the issues.

  2. Pingback: Desperate times call for creative measures |

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