Parks and recreation

‘Crushingly underfunded’: council debates HRM parks budget

$28.6 million proposed for parks and rec, $600,000 might be added

Councillors say the Halifax Regional Municipality’s parks and recreation department is underfunded, but they aren’t making immediate changes to the proposed budget.

Coun. Waye Mason broached the topic in council Wednesday following the parks and recreation budget proposal.

“There is a point where you’re just constantly trying to stretch and stretch and stretch and eventually it breaks and I feel like that’s where we’re at with parks right now,” he said.

The total operating budget is $28.6 million, up from $28.3 million last year.

A staff report by parks and recreation found that, compared to other Canadian municipalities, the HRM doesn’t put a lot of funds toward parks. The report was ordered by council in February 2017 after a debate about budget cuts.

HRM staff worked with the Municipal Benchmarking Network of Canada, which included 2017 data from 10 cities across the country. The median operating cost per person for parks was $67.38. In the HRM, however, it was $41.05. There wasn’t any information provided on recreation and cultural services.

Parks and recreation manages the HRM’s trails, fields and recreational centres. It organizes civic events and programming, like skating at the Emera Oval and summer camps. Plus, it deals with public safety issues like inclusion, personal safety and community emergencies.

“It’s humbling our staff keep the thing going at all right now when they’re so fundamentally, crushingly underfunded,” said Mason.

Mason and councillors Richard Zurawski and Tim Outhit all said residents deserve better parks and recreation services.

Residents will start to notice problems, said Mason.

“It could be not enough space for the kid in the summer program, or it could be a kid falls and trips over a divot in a field we haven’t had the money to rehab,” he said. “That is the kind of stuff that drives our residents crazy.”

Mayor Mike Savage pointed out parks and recreation accomplished a lot in the last year, from the renovation of the Zatzman Sportsplex in Dartmouth to the replacement of 24 playgrounds. He acknowledged there is room for improvement, but said the HRM should be proud of the services it has.

Outhit said what “drives people absolutely squirrely” is small maintenance issues like potholes in parking lots and overgrown parks. Council approved his motion to put an additional $60,000 in the budget “parking lot,” meaning it will be discussed at a later date.

Of that number, Outhit would like $10,000 for park materials, $20,000 for trail maintenance and $30,000 for grass and shrubs. He also requested more information on these services before council makes a final decision.

Further deliberation on the parks and recreation budget will continue later this month.