Today, Mayor Jenny Durkan is releasing her 2021 Proposed Budget. This budget comes during a series of challenges for the City. A global pandemic, an economic recession, a civil rights reckoning, climate related wildfires, and failing infrastructure in our City have all combined to make this budget unlike any other in our history.
Our revenue challenges are a direct result of the pandemic causing a significant and immediate slowdown in economic activity. In 2020, we froze spending, delayed projects, and spent down our one-time revenue sources to delay impacts to the City.
The Mayor’s 2021 budget prioritizes maintaining investments in community that promote equity as well as critical funding to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. To the extent possible, this budget maintains core services to minimize the impact of filling a more than $300 million dollar shortfall to our City budget.
Many of the recreation programs that Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) puts on have not been safe to operate since February. We have pivoted staff and resources to meet current community needs by implementing the following programs: community showers, childcare for those furthest from educational justice, enhanced cleaning of facilities and restrooms, a focus on keeping parks open while supporting public health and safety, free meals programs, and virtual programming aimed at those most isolated. We have provided these critical services while also seeking to address significant gaps in revenue typically generated through fee-based programs, and our 2020 adjusted budget reflects many of the reductions made in light of these challenges.
As the 2021 budget is transmitted, limitations on recreation are still in place while community needs remain significant. Our 2021 Proposed Budget recognizes that Seattle Parks and Recreation can best support our community and plan for our future by maintaining our operational capacity and retaining staff to support the changing needs of our community. Yet this budget also reflects the incredible budgetary impact of this pandemic by pausing many of our planned capital development projects.
We do not make these decisions lightly and recognize that this will result in hard community conversations with those who have partnered with us and advocated for these projects. Our hope is that as the economy recovers, and as we formulate a funding plan for the next six-year cycle of the Park District, we will be able to restart many of these paused capital projects.
Additionally, revenues brought in by our programs (aquatics, event space rentals, permits, golf, etc.) enable SPR to provide these and other programs and pay the staff who run them. The loss of most of the revenue generated by these programs has contributed to the reductions outlined below. It is important to note that this loss continues to grow and may require the department to make additional reductions.
- Continue to leave vacant positions unfilled and reduce use of temporary employees
- Pause dozens of park development projects, along with many major maintenance projects
- Eliminate funding to support community organization to do programming in downtown and neighborhood parks
- Reduce forest restoration work
- Stopping our Major Projects Challenge Fund grant program
- and a reduction to our land acquisition funds
Our goal in making these reductions was to leave intact projects that will benefit communities of color, preserve our ability to respond to eminent community need, and to retain staff and structure that will enable us to rebuild as the pandemic recedes and funding is reinstated.
In the last quarter of 2020 and through 2021 Seattle Parks and Recreation anticipates being able to provide additional services to the public, though these services will likely be limited due to public health guidance and staffing limitations. This will result in centers with capital improvement projects in 2021 remaining closed for the duration of the year and shifting Alki Community Center into a center that only offers childcare and rentals to neighbors and community groups.
As we move forward, we must make choices on how and where to provide additional programs and services. As we do so, we are committed to prioritizing communities of color.
Our services and programs are very different than they were at the beginning of 2020, and our future will also be very different than we anticipated just six months ago. Nonetheless, we are committed to doing our best to support healthy people, a healthy environment, and strong communities.