Thursday, October 29, 2009

Metro Nashville Parks Department may cut staff, services

Director submits plan to balance budget, takes blame for overruns By Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • October 29, 2009 Operating hours for some Nashville parks services would be trimmed and workers would be laid off under a plan submitted by embattled Parks Director Roy Wilson to balance his agency's budget, which has a $1 million shortfall. Wilson submitted a plan to trim $463,000 from the Metro Parks & Recreation Department's budget at a special board meeting Wednesday. The proposal will be reviewed by Mayor Karl Dean's administration, and a vote on the plan by the Parks board could come as soon as next week. Under Wilson's proposal, operating hours at Davidson County's neighborhood community centers and nature centers would be trimmed, and seven recreation staff employees would be laid off as a result of the cuts. Wilson's plan comes in addition to steps the board already took earlier this month to trim $386,000 from its budget. Those cuts led to an unspecified decrease in the number of athletic programs operated by the department, in addition to closing Shelby and Warner golf courses during the winter. Wilson acknowledged last week that the $1 million in overruns were his responsibility, and echoed that sentiment before the Parks board on Wednesday. "I'm not here to give excuses," Wilson told the board, accepting blame for the overages. "That's not what you want and it's not what I want to do." Wilson gave a presentation outlining how the Parks Department ran over a total of $704,000 for the budget year that ended in June. The presentation also explained that the department needed to trim about $500,000 in operating expenses for this year to stay under budget. Wilson attributed the overages to unexpected expenses, including surprise repairs. But the most expensive overage Wilson mentioned was staffing two new nature centers at a cost of $304,000. The fifth-year director also approved opening the two popular golf courses last winter, which cost Metro $184,000. Wilson's proposal Wednesday seemed to catch the Dean administration by surprise at the meeting. "It seemed to me it was a little quick on the trigger and more thought needs to be given to it," Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said. "They may be the right (cuts) and I don't know. When they're just being thrown upon you, it's hard for us to react to it." Oversight concerns Riebeling said his primary concern was that Wilson did not alert the administration that his department had run over budget, especially at a time when most other agencies stuck to budget reductions of at least 10 percent for the year. "I don't think they've answered those questions," Riebeling said. "I think there's not enough attention devoted to the why's? I think it's important that we solve the issue this year, but I think we need to know the systematic cause to it, and I don't think we have those adequate answers yet." Metro Council member Jerry Maynard, who attended Wednesday's meeting, pointed out that other departments ran over budget last year, including the Community Education program. Councilman Ronnie Steine has asked Parks to make a report at the Nov. 16 Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting. The next regularly scheduled board meeting is Tuesday.

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