BERKELEY -- Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Director Scott Ferris didn't come to the Nov. 12 City Council workshop to boast about the city's 52 beloved and well-used parks.
Addressing the council, Ferris got straight to the point, saying, "The parks tax fund is not generating sufficient revenues to cover the cost of the basic maintenance of the parks and related facilities."
Without new revenue from increased taxes, the city's tennis and basketball courts, sports fields, community buildings, street trees and median strips face major degradation, he said.
Parks are largely funded through a 1997 parks tax that generates about $10 million each year. The tax increases as the Bay Area Consumer Price Index goes up. But the parks tax fund will be running a deficit by 2017, Ferris said, noting that the department has made budget cuts, including the elimination of three vacant landscape gardener positions.
Currently the department is funding a number of projects, including Willard Park tennis courts, Live Oak Park basketball courts and citywide picnic areas. However, Ferris said in a written report to council that "Despite the substantial list of capital and major maintenance projects that are funded over the next five years at a cost of $11 million, over $30 million in capital and major maintenance projects remains unfunded."
Part of the problem Ferris said he faces, is the increased costs to the city when maintenance is neglected. "The deferred maintenance has resulted over time in degrading the facilities, (resulting in) numerous safety issues that could potentially result in partial closures of these facilities," Ferris said.
Councilman Laurie Capitelli said the council should be more disciplined and set aside funds for long-term maintenance. "There's always a temptation to spend the money you have in your pocket today rather than to set it aside for tomorrow, and that's where we get into these situations where ... instead of repairing a siding ... you have to literally rip off the wall to rebuild the walls," Capitelli said.
While it's important to maintain existing park facilities, additional projects should be considered for funding, said Councilman Darryl Moore. He noted community support for orchards and community gardens on the south Berkeley portion of the former Santa Fe right of way west of Sacramento Street, rebuilding the demolished Willard swimming pool, and building a warm pool for the disabled community. (A 2012 bond measure on the Berkeley ballot to support the pools garnered 62 percent, failing to get the 66.6 percent it needed to pass.)
Ferris said hiking the parks tax by 10 percent would generate $1 million per year. It would cost the owner of a 1,900 square-foot building $25 per year, which would be added to the $230 parks taxes that property owner is currently paying.
Councilwoman Susan Wengraf said other possibilities for increasing revenue include a bond measure, which would fund specific capital projects, and increasing parks fees, such as rental for sports fields.
"A city is as good as its parks," Wengraf said. "We have to come up with a source for more funding."