Friday, September 11, 2009

Mayor Ballard's Slashed Parks Budget is Approved by Council Committee

Well, a good night's sleep has not softened my reaction to last night's City-County Council Parks Committee meeting. Mayor Ballard has targeted the blue collar workers at Parks with his 2010 budget cuts and 4 Republican members of the Committee voted that it was just fine by them.

Those voting in favor of the budget cuts and loss of jobs were:
Suzie Day (Chair)
Janice McHenry
Mike McQuillen
Mike Speedy

Three votes opposing the Parks budget were cast by the three Democrats on the Committee:
Vernan Brown
Monroe Gray
William Oliver

In this entry I will first outline the Parks budget and the cuts Mayor Ballard has made during his tenure on the 25th floor, then talk about an amendment approved last night along party lines, and finally talk about Parks Director Stuart Lowry's comments that revealed more than he intended about how well Parks is really doing.


Spending on the Parks Department was just over $32 Million per year in 2007 and 2008 - before Mayor Ballard put his fingerprints on the budget. In 2009, a one time infusion of about $3.5 Million was put in the budget for improvements to the pools, but salaries were cut from $15.7 M to $14.5 M and the proposal for 2010, is a further drop to $13.1 M. Mayor Ballard has slashed salaries in the Parks Department 21% since taking over two budgets ago.

David Reynolds, City Controller, says the cuts are necessary because the Parks fund balance needs to be strengthened. He does not want to consider the golf course maintenance fund along with the Parks fund for their balance. I don't have any particular objection to his logic. But, I must add that under Mayor Peterson, the City kicked in $800,000 more from the County fund than Ballard has been doing. And, I must add that the Parks fund will take in $24 M this year, but spend out only $22 M - so there is wiggle room if saving jobs was important to Mayor Ballard. Other resources that could be tapped are: A) put only $15 M of surplus revenue into a rainy day fund instead of $16 M. B) use some of the water company payment in lieu of taxes, totaling an unappropriated $2 M, that was surprisingly announced three nights ago. Or, C) roll back that $290,000 in the Council budget for redistricting, even though the 2010 census will not be complete enough to begin redistricting next year.

There is no particular hardship in balancing the 2010 budget since there is $65M in new revenues over 2009; representing a 5.5% INCREASE in revenues. You would not know that fact to hear the partial picture presented by the Mayor and his PR machine. An increase in resources cannot be made to justify cuts in employees or services. So, the Mayor's PR machine continues to spin the loss in potential tax revenues because of the tax caps, implying that the budget is tighter this year than last. What they choose to leave out is that tax revenues, even after the tax caps cuts are factored in, will INCREASE by $27 M in 2010 over 2009. And as I mentioned, the total revenues increase by $65 M. The budget should not be put in surplus on the backs of city employees and deteriorating levels of service in our parks. Not everyone can afford tickets to Lucas Oil Stadium or Conseco Fieldhouse, but they can afford a walk in the park.

One aside - I fully expect that at next week's Municipal Corporations Committee meeting, Councillors will find another $3 M for the CIB. Contrast the cuts in budget for Parks, dropping that budget to $27 M, when parks provide a boost in quality of life for all Indy residents, with the mad scramble to load up the CIB coffers with another $21 M per year, and perhaps more yet, on top of the $100 M they already get. Pretty clear where the priority is.


One amendment was introduced by Councillor McHenry last night, although it appears to have been drafted at the behest of Chairwoman Day. The discussion last night indicates that $654 K was moved from salaries to contracts when Director Lowry crafted his budget in anticipation that some functions, primarily mowing, now handled by Parks employees would be outsourced. I know there was a rumor that the parks employees were banned from bidding on that contract. I don't know if that rumor was true and some arms were twisted to allow employee bidding, or if Lowry just assumed they would lose the bid. In any case, Day asked him to return the money from the contracts back to salaries. What will happen is that if the employees win the bid for the contract, $654 K worth of salaries will be saved from being axed. The employees whose salaries are represented by at least $772 K will be laid off regardless of who wins the contract. No matter that outcome, the budget is still down $1.4 M in combined salaries and contract work. Looking at the detailed breakout, it looks like 'infrastructure maintenance' is the budget line affected in the contracts portion of the Parks budget. After the amendment passed last night, the numbers on that line would change from $918 K in the 2009 budget to $478 K for 2010.

Employees will be laid off and services will suffer - of that there can be no doubt. The exact combination of those two things is all that remains up in the air.


Director Lowry made a presentation and answered questions last night that left me very troubled by his leadership at the helm of this organization. When pressed by Councillor Gray about possible layoffs, he could only speak of a reduction in FTEs (full time equivalents -- or number of employees). The sterility of his response contrasts with the reality that some number of blue collar Parks employees will be on the unemployment line and their families will struggle because of it. Was Lowry made Director because of his affinity with Parks and its services to the community, or merely to slash and privatize whatever he can?

When pressed by Councillor Oliver about turning 6 acres of Washington Park into a hummingbird and butterfly preserve, the responses all came back to saving the money on mowing costs - although environmental concerns were tossed into the mix, they rang hollow. I found it particularly telling that Oliver reiterated that these decisions were made without any input from the community. I took a moment this morning to track down the Washington Park Master Plan which can be found online. That document appears to have been drawn up in the mid-1980's -- it is not dated and the latest date I noticed in the text is 1986. It shows no preserve or wildflower garden. This lack of community input is like Lowry's failure over the deal with Kroger to encroach on the Monon Trail, and the way the pools issue blew up in the spring.

During his presentation, Lowry seemed proud of the fact that a particular program was attracting increasing numbers of participants EVEN THOUGH THEY OFFERED IT IN ONLY 25 locations, down from 33 locations. All I could think of when he showed that graphic was -- how many square miles is Marion County and how much service can you provide when you decrease the number of program locations? I looked it up -- Marion County is 403 square miles. There is nothing to be proud of when you have only 25 locations for a popular program.

Also troubling was his boasting of the Parks Department 'mobile recreation unit' -- a van that travels around to neighborhoods that have few resources and gives the kids ideas about how to recreate with little to recreate with or on. Are you kidding me? I appreciate the effort, but this is an example of the failure of the Parks Department to be able to provide for the community needs and substituting a small token in place of expanding our Parks capacity. I could have accepted it better had he presented it as trying to make the best out of a bad situation. Instead he presented it as a wonderful program to be counted as one of their 2009 successes.

And the last item I will mention is that under the topic of 2010 challenges faced by the Parks Department was 'limited equipment and aging fleet'. Would this be the same sort of equipment Director Lowry said would not be missed when it was cut from the 2009 budget a year ago?

I know this has been long winded and a bit wonkish in places. In plain English I would say this:

The City-County budget resources are, thankfully, growing in 2010 and that gives Indianapolis a breather from the severe cuts other cities across our nation are facing. It is prudent to put some of this surplus away for next year when the resources could contract. But, to single out the Parks Department for cuts that will lead to layoffs and loss of service to the community, when we have the money to maintain the status quo, is pretty much heartless and not in the best tradition of a city that likes to claim it is world class. There are many ways the $1.4 M in Parks salary cuts could be restored and still have a surplus to put in the rainy day fund and I have noted a few here. It is not a matter of having the means to find the $1.4 M in a $1,222.6 M budget - it is having the will to place sufficient priority on the one service all residents of Indy can take advantage of.


Paul K. Ogden said...

Great summary of the Parks Department cuts.

One thing I don't understand is why they insiste on putting $290,000 in the 2010 budget for redistricting, when the law clearly says they can't redistrict until AFTER the 2011 elections

Had Enough Indy? said...

All I can think is that the Rs aren't convinced they will be in charge come 2012 when redistricting is allowed and they want to be sure their pork is spread around.

When Rokita managed to map 300 districts for $50,000, you have to wonder why it would cost Indy taxpayers $580,000 to map just 22.

Sounds like the pork tent is open.

Paul K. Ogden said...


Actually Rokita mapped 100 house + 50 senate + 9 congressional so it was 159 total. The Council has 25 districts (no use counting the four at large.) Still it looks like Rokita doesn't know how to spread around the graft on projects like this. (That was sarcasm.)

Had Enough Indy? said...

I guess I need to download one of those emoticons that show embarrassment !

Thanks for the correction.