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City Parks, Recreation Heads: Budgets Are Strained And Needed Repairs Are Mounting

Photos from a third-party report identify repairs needed at various Cincinnati Parks locations.
Cincinnati Parks Department
Photos from a third-party report identify repairs needed at various Cincinnati Parks locations.

Cincinnati officials say the city's Parks and Recreation Departments are struggling under tight budgets and mounting repair bills. City administrators are in the early stages of preparing a budget for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Department heads briefed council members at a meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee Monday.

Parks Department Director Kara Kish says a third-party review identified a $74 million need for repairs, including about $14 million needed in the next two years. Kish says park infrastructure is beginning to fail.

"I feel that we have a responsibility to ensure that 150 years from now our assets are still valuable and utilized by the community," she said.

The review doesn't include needed repairs and regular maintenance for the trail system

Most park facilities remained open throughout the pandemic, and Kish says they lost a lot of revenue, including nearly a million dollars at Krohn Conservatory in less than a year.

"However, we did not have the benefit of eliminating operational expenses," Kish said. "In its 87th year of operation the Krohn conservatory staff are essential employees who care for the historic collections."

The department is asking for $3.5 million annually for the capital improvement program, and $2.2 million annually for roadway repairs.

See the full budget presentation below (story continues after):Parks Department Budget Presentation by WVXU News on Scribd

At the Department of Recreation, expanding services during the pandemic has strained the budget.

Director Daniel Betts told council members the recreation centers in particular have played a crucial role, including as vaccination sites and quarantine centers for the homeless.

"We see our role in these centers as being community based, not just rolling out a basketball to kids in a gym," Betts said.

Pre-pandemic, the recreation centers expanded operating hours on Fridays and weekends. And when schools were shut down, they worked with Cincinnati Public Schools to provide space and internet for virtual learning.

Betts says it may be time to consider a tax levy for both Recreation and Parks: "And really have an intelligent conversation around what that will look like for these two agencies to help support that backlog of deferred maintenance that I think we both share."

See the full budget presentation below:Recreation Department Budget Presentation by WVXU News on Scribd

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Becca Costello