AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – In the midst of significant Christmas flair, the city of Amarillo’s Parks and Recreation Board met for its first meeting since November’s failed Proposition A election, as well as an Amarillo City Council-led conversation which occurred after the election surrounding the future of the department, including potential adjustments and closures.
According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, 55% of residents of the city of Amarillo voted down the city’s tax-related measure which would have approved a tax rate for the city of $0.48404 for the 2021-22 fiscal year, a 22% increase from the city’s rate of $0.39681 for the 2020-21 fiscal year. Because the measure was voted down, the tax rate for the city of Amarillo is set to be the voter approval tax rate of $0.44334, a rate $0.0407 lower than the proposed rate on the ballot.
Michael Kashuba, the director of the city’s parks and recreation department, said this meeting was only the start of the conversation, with no decisions ultimately being made. It was a chance for the board to have a strategic look at potential decisions that could be made regarding the department’s future.
In the 2021-22 budget cycle, the department received more than $3 million in the last budget session, aimed at maintaining and upgrading the department’s current assets, according to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com. However, city officials previously stated that an estimated cost of $3.3 to $3.8 million was needed each year for the department’s current assets, $50 million of which are designated as failing.
Some of the discussion topics during Wednesday’s meeting included how to increase revenues and reduce expenses as well as having conversations with the area school districts regarding the costs of maintaining the parks which are shared by the two entities.
“It’s going to be a balancing act, and we’re going to have to look at all the different elements of our department and sort through and figure out what’s the best for each approach,” Kashuba said. “…The challenge is you can increase revenues or decrease expenses. The question becomes what happens when you get stuck in the middle. That’s really where we’re going to be looking for some real guidance from the board. What happens if it’s hard to increase the revenue of something, but you’re also expected to put some money into it? How does that balance out?”
Other conversations which occurred included increasing user fees for some offerings, as well as potential public/private partnerships that could occur at the more regional parks, like Rick Klein Park and John Stiff Park, similar to the partnership between Thompson Park and Wonderland Amusement Park.
But one thing that has been agreed on, and a project which has had movement, is the removal of restrooms from some of the smaller parks, including the neighborhood parks and the school parks. Kashuba said the department is working with park maintenance officials to lay out a plan for the removal of those facilities, which would reduce staff time in the long run.
With the increased budget, Kashuba said the goal for the department is to complete some of the “low hanging fruit” projects quickly, including various playground improvements, which will be brought to the Amarillo City Council in January.
“I think we’re going to start looking at some of those projects that need to happen and we can do fairly quickly while we’re planning for those bigger projects,” Kashuba said.
Along with concerns surrounding the current state of the Amarillo City Hall, along with the status of the Amarillo Civic Center Complex and other city needs, Amarillo City Council member Eddy Sauer, who was present at Wednesday’s meeting, said the parks and recreation department has become a center of focus for this iteration of the City Council, as evidenced by the increased budget given the department.
“We’ve got to talk about quality of life… I’m very interested in quality of life and quality of life is going to be surrounded around our parks,” Sauer said. “We do realize that from COVID, everybody started heading back outside sort of enjoying the parks again. So now then, that’s going to become a priority.”
However, Sauer stressed that with the current state of the city’s tax rate being as low as it is, city departments, including the parks and recreation department, are “doing a whole lot with almost nothing,” which will ultimately impact the city as a whole.
“We have a city that has got to be running the most efficient budget in the entire state of Texas if you look at what our tax rate is and you look at what our property values are,” Sauer said. “…Unfortunately, we’re going to have to look at everything even harder to see how do we make this thing work. I think we can make things work. It’s just we’re having to take a really hard look.”
But even with some of the amenities that will be able to be maintained with the increased budget, officials state that certain things will be impacted because Proposition A was voted down in November.
“The citizens said ‘no, we’re not giving you more tax money,’ and Parks was included in that. So, I don’t care how much you like whatever department. It’s going to get examined,” Board Member Tiffany Podzemny said during the meeting. “I think people don’t think about that. I was like, if you can’t get taxes to go up with fire, police and parks, I don’t know how you’re going to get them to say yes to raising taxes, even though it was not that much… I think that nothing is safe… you have to look at everything. I think that citizens need to know that.”
During the board meeting, Kashuba and the parks and recreation department team also laid out the vision after a design services plan for the department’s athletic facilities was approved by the Amarillo City Council in November. According to previous reports, this study is centered around the redevelopment of five sports complexes within existing parks.
Kashuba said the study is expected to begin later this month, with the process ending by next March. At that point, the department will have a clearer idea of what the athletic complexes could be, as well as the price tag that goes along with it. From there, the board, along with other city officials, will evaluate how to potentially move forward with those projects.
The Amarillo City Council is expected to meet for its next regular meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the council chambers in City Hall.