Springfield leaders approve parks budget, warn that it can’t overspend

Springfield city commissioners approved more than $1.1 million in funding for the National Trail Parks and Recreation District in 2016, but again warned the district it cannot ask for extra money at the end of the year.

Commissioners unanimously approved 2016 funding for the district this week, which includes $650,000 in operating money and $175,000 for permanent improvements from the general fund. National Trail will also receive about $300,000 from the stormwater fund for managing Buck Creek, one of the city’s largest stormwater areas.

The district is doing a great job with programming, Springfield City Commissioner Dan Martin said, but with the city’s financial forecast, it cannot provide additional money at the end of this year.

“In my view, I think they need to live within this budget for this year,” Martin said. “I feel we need to send a message that this funding is what they’re going to have to live with. If they’re not able to do that, they need to be making those adjustments and taking it into consideration early this year, rather than coming back late in the year and asking for supplements.”

The other four commissioners — Mayor Warren Copeland and City Commissioners Karen Duncan, Joyce Chilton and Kevin O’Neill — agreed with Martin.

“It’s the consensus of this commission that we can’t subsidize losing golf courses any longer,” Copeland said. “We’re going to have to figure out some way to deal with it.”

While O’Neill voted against the city’s budget last month, he voted in favor of the parks funding because the budget had already passed.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to hamstring this department not being able to pay its bills,” O’Neill said. “We are obligated to pay the bills.”

In 2014, the district received about $50,000 in extra money to balance its budget. The city budgeted $1.1 million in 2012 and 2013 for NTPRD, but spent $1.27 million and $1.29 million in those years, respectively.

National Trail also received $175,000 annually during those year for permanent improvement projects.

Last year, local golfers played about 36,300 rounds at the two Reid Park Golf Courses this year, down about 600 rounds from last year. The district recently raised daily rates for non-members by $1 next year to increase revenue.

National Trail receives about $965,000 annually from a recently renewed parks levy, which is designated for parks and green spaces. That money cannot be used to pay for revenue-generating operations, like golf courses, Splash Zone or the NTPRD Chiller ice rink.

While city funding has been reduced from $2 million in 2008 to about $950,000 last year, the district continues to maintain city-owned park properties, Director Leann Castillo said. That includes more than 1,300 acres of parks, 30 miles of roads and trails, 15 miles of river, 16 acres of ponds and lagoons, 20 acres of wetlands, two 18-hole Reid Park golf courses, the water park and the baseball stadium.

“I know with (the city’s) current budget situation, it’s going to continue to be reduced,” she said. “We’re going to have to work with the city to determine what they feel are the top priorities for their park properties and operations.”

National Trail has an annual budget of about $4 million with 23 full-time employees and about 130 seasonal employees. The organization saw 100,000 program attendees and more than 1 million visitors at its parks last year.

The district has also reduced its staff by nearly half, Castillo said, and closed historic Snyder Park Golf Course in early 2014.

“We’re still trying to maintain all of the things we’ve been maintaining with less and less money,” Castillo said. “We’re going to have to work closely with them to see what they want to still support and what they don’t.”

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