Budget cuts may hit area parks hard

March 31, 2011 3:58:43 PM PDT
Parents and children worried about how budget cuts will affect their parks are rallying to get the city's attention. The city's parks and recreation department is facing massive cuts, and Houston residents are worried it could eventually affect them directly. They are worried and they should be. The city of Houston is planning to cut $15 million, and you can't cut that much money without there being an effect on residents.

Wearing their brightly colored soccer jerseys, dozens of kids and their parents streamed into the Houston parks department Thursday afternoon, pleading with officials to keep the soccer program at Milby Park.

"If soccer goes away, grades will go down, kids will stop going to school, and they'll start going to drugs and gangs," said high school soccer player Martin Villarreal. "A lot of things will happen."

Organizers say more than 800 kids currently participate, children who often have few other avenues of physical activity and recreation.

Soccer organizer Jaime Villegas said, "We got 800 kids ranging from five years old to 17 and 18. These are low-income families."

But the cash-strapped city has told the parks department to cut $15 million from its budget, meaning jobs and popular programs could just disappear.

Mark Ross with the Houston Parks Department explained, "It's impossible to cut $15 million without impacting programs, yes."

The parks department says it will announce what parks and programs will get the ax by next week. Everything, including your neighborhood park, is on the table.

Park user Tara Chappel asked, "If they take this park, away where are these kids going to play?"

These kids hope they'll still be able to play soccer.

One said, "I'm worried because they're going to close the parks."

The kids are supposed to find out sometime next week what programs are proposed to be cut. It's not just soccer programs on the line. Park officials admit things like swimming pools could also be affected by the budget cuts.

Last year, Houston's parks and recreation department had a budget of $74 million. That was slashed $10.5 million for 2011. The department is expecting another cut of $15 million for 2012. The parks department says it's being forced to make a 40 percent cut in staff, programs and services as a result.

Texas budget cuts to affect state parks

Proposed cuts to the Texas Parks and Wildlife agency's budget are not sitting well with a broad coalition of Houstonians.

It's a tough situation, with state legislators expected to pass a massive budget including a lot of cuts across the board, hitting especially hard the Texas Parks and Wildlife agency, with a couple of million dollars that will no longer be available.

A number of parks in the Houston area, state parks and local parks alike, will suffer from the cuts. Local advocates have several levels of concern. First, they say our state parks cannot afford these cuts, expecting limits on programs, park rangers and operating hours. They also point out that a lot of local parks receive grant money from the state to keep them up and running, benefitting inner-city children among others.

In addition, they claim hunting and fishing enthusiasts contribute a great deal of money to the state's economy.

"Our legislators would take into consideration all of the dollars that are generated by the users, by the hunters and fishermen and parks people, and how much money it generates and all of the sales tax it's generated from them," said hunting and fishing advocate Ed Parton. "I'd think that they'd want to increase the budget instead of decrease the budget."

Unfortunately, that does not look like it will happen.


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