The city’s parks department will significantly scale back its 2018-19 budget request for additional funds to acquire or update parks, members of the Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Board learned Wednesday.
Board Chair Rick DeVore said after a meeting he had with Mayor Bill Cole, City Administrator Bruce McCandless and Parks Director Michael Whitaker, the department will be asking during its June 4 council budget presentation that three items be added to the proposed parks budget: $1 million from the city’s reserve fund, the use of an estimated $1 million the city has received over the years from housing developers in lieu of land donations, and a one-year increase in the Park District 1 assessment — from $2 million to $3 million — for the development of new parks.
As recently as last fall, the board had planned to ask the Billings City Council for $3 million from the city’s reserve fund during the 2018-19 budget process, which begins in May. The city's fiscal year runs from July 1 through June 30, 2019.
The city has not developed a regional park since 1982, when Castle Rock Park in the Heights was built. The city’s parks master plan says the most underserved neighborhoods for parks are in the West End and South Side.
“We recognize our biggest need is Centennial Park,” Whitaker told the board. That park, at St. Johns Avenue and 32nd Avenue West, is slated for $6 million worth of improvements, including additional ball fields and a dog park.
Now the department is narrowing its fiscal focus, taking a year-to-year budgeting approach with the council and with senior city staff, including McCandless. Six million dollars “is a large amount in the current fiscal situation,” Whitaker told the board.
The department will ask the council if it can further develop Centennial Park in phases. With a $2 million price tag, the first phase will include infrastructure work, new turf, irrigation improvements and additional parking.
After a few years when the work is complete at Centennial Park, “we’ll pick another park and work through the same process,” Whitaker said.
DeVore told the board he believes the more-focused approach will bear fruit down the line.
“Once we get it approved and the council sees the value coming out of their dollars,” he said, “it will be an easier sell in the coming years.”
This year’s prodigious and prolonged snowfall has delayed everything from opening park restrooms to completing playground equipment repairs.
The average low temperature in Billings during the month of April has been 17 degrees, said Parks Superintendent Mike Pigg.
“We are a month behind cleanup and preparing (park) restrooms for opening,” he said. “We’re going to have to double-time it. We will have an extremely busy spring — if that’s what we still call it.”
The weight of the snow damaged the support cables that hold up the nets at the Stewart Park batting cages.
On a more positive note, construction of the operations building at Rose Park Pool, severely damaged by a March 31, 2016 arson fire, is on schedule for completion in May.
During the first 10 days of April, registration for summer and fall recreation offerings has been up 20 percent over the same period in 2017, a record year for the program, said Kory Thomson, recreation superintendent.