Thursday, October 22, 2009

Nashville parks spend $1M over budget

Mayor, agency board want answers By Nate Rau • THE TENNESSEAN • October 22, 2009 In a year when nearly every department in Metro faced budget cuts of 10 percent or more, Parks & Recreation was the only one to come in over budget, and it has continued to run a deficit for the first two months of this budget year. triggerAd(1,PaginationPage,8); Those overruns, caused by unexpected expenses and a decision to keep open two popular golf courses during the winter, only became apparent recently and have left Mayor Karl Dean's administration and the Parks board searching for answers about what happened. The Metro Finance Department awaits final figures for just how far over budget Parks was at the end of last fiscal year, but Deputy Director Talia Lomax-O'Dneal estimated the overrun would be in the neighborhood of $800,000. For the first two months of the current budget year, Parks is over budget by about $200,000, as of September. "I think it is a significant issue that needs to be dealt with," Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said. "Frankly, it's just not fair to the rest of the government when other departments are playing by the rules and living within their means." Virtually every Metro department had its budget cut by about 10 percent this year, and Parks was no different. Its current $28 million budget reflects a 12.5 percent cut compared to last year. The department said in May, when the Metro Council passed the current budget, that it planned to lay-off about 50 workers, although that number has been reduced largely by leaving positions vacant. Parks Director Roy Wilson said the department suffered a series of "unexpected expenses" in May and July, including repairs at Two Rivers golf course stemming from a lightning strike to its irrigation system. But the fifth-year director also acknowledged that some of the budget overruns stemmed from decisions he made to open golf courses at Shelby and Percy Warner parks during the winter months, though they were scheduled to be closed. Wilson also opened the Cleveland Park swimming pool this summer. "Some things I added back into operation that had been reduced … due to pressure from the community," Wilson said, referring to his decision to open the golf courses and pool. The Metro Parks Board became aware of the situation after the Finance Department gave the seven-member body the budget numbers earlier this month. It plans to hold a special meeting next week to discuss the issue. Councilman concerned Board Chairman Stanley Fossick indicated it was too soon to point fingers, but said the board wanted to see the budget balance out soon. Fossick pointed out that typically the Parks Department sees its budget rise in the summer months with additional seasonal workers. "When we meet again, hopefully we'll have the audited September (monthly) budget," Fossick said. "If we're not seeing the trend starting to correct itself, the board is going to have to make recommendations to get this back in order." Riebeling said his greatest concern stemmed from the fact that the Parks board was not alerted to the budget over-run and learned about the problem from his department. Wilson said he made the board aware of his decision to open the seasonal facilities and of the extra repair expenses. The situation also concerned District 4 Metro Councilman Michael Craddock. "I'm extremely disappointed. I think Director Wilson needs to do a much better job," said Craddock, who tends to be outspoken on budget issues. "The buck stops at his desk. He's in charge. There is absolutely no excuse for operating over the budget, none whatsoever."

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