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'The crunch'

Without city dollars, Colorado Springs' park workers toil

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This week marks the end of the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department's formal search for an eager 10 to 15 individuals to weed, mow and edge the city's parks over the summer. These workers will help buoy a department that has staggered through a staffing shortage over the past two years.

Money for the new hires a one-time allowance of $50,000 comes from excess Colorado Lottery revenue. The parks department is also hiring another three full-time staffers, using funding from the Trails, Open Spaces and Parks tax.

But the city has yet to commit more of its own dollars to the department, which has received a decreasing percentage of the city's general fund budget even as the number of properties it maintains has swelled to 204. In 2006, the department was given 8.27 percent of the general fund, the lowest percentage in the past three years. Nine years ago, the department was allotted 9.56 percent of the general fund.

Larry Royal, a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, questions City Council's commitment to the parks.

"I disagree with the things that they do," he says. "They have cut us in the past, and they will do so again. To me, that is dead wrong."

The new hires will alleviate some of the park department's maintenance woes, but not all of them. The department was hit especially hard by 2004 citywide budget cuts that removed general-fund dollars for 51 of the 425 temporary worker positions, jobs that often entail mowing grass and emptying trash. Ron Cheek, a maintenance supervisor for the west parks division, calls that time "the crunch." But his load has yet to be lightened.

"There is a point," Cheek says, "where you'll have to provide more maintenance funding."

Royal says the parks board has repeatedly requested a budget increase. But Council, he says, has been largely unreceptive, giving the board "no real explanations."

Vice Mayor Larry Small has said the city prioritizes parks, but puts public safety and public works first.

naomi@csindy.com

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