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Originally published Monday, May 24, 2010 at 10:02 PM

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Nicole Brodeur

Budget not playing fair with parks

He was gone a lot, traveling here and there. And when he was called on it, Seattle Parks Superintendent Tim Gallagher offered to pack his bags for good — but not without alluding to "The upcoming collapse of a truly great park system."

Seattle Times staff columnist

He was gone a lot, traveling here and there.

And when he was called on it, Seattle Parks Superintendent Tim Gallagher offered to pack his bags for good — but not without alluding to "The upcoming collapse of a truly great park system."

In other words: You'll be sorry.

Oh, we already are, especially for what we did in 2008. We were so happy, so sure of our future, and Gallagher, that we invested in the civic equivalent of a Ferrari: a $146 million parks levy earmarked for the development of new parks, playgrounds and P-patches.

It looks like a foolish indulgence now, as city officials scramble to make up for a $15 million budget shortfall by cutting, among other things, park operations.

The department gets 65 percent of its budget from the general fund. Using, or re-prioritizing the levy money to save current parks programs would require a ballot measure.

It's like a new divorcée walking from room to room, wondering what to toss in order to survive, while that new Ferrari sits in the garage.

First in most minds, though, are the kids; and the 27 parks-run community centers where hundreds attend preschool and summer programs that start in a matter of weeks.

The centers are on the cutting block; everything is. Mayor Mike McGinn has ordered all department heads to go back to their 2010 budgets and find reductions. He will review their choices in the coming days and may make more of his own.

Nothing has been decided, but Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw sent a note to constituents saying that parks could expect a 3 percent cut — or more.

The news has had a Chicken Little effect. All over the city, families are sure that the sky is falling, but don't know where, how hard, or even how to prepare.

"The level of fear and anxiety is incredible," said Adam Tischler, 35, one of a group of citizens working to save the Ballard and Loyal Heights Community Centers. "The city has refused to say that the cuts aren't going to happen. So the perceived risk to the community is pretty high."

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Tischler doesn't know of any neighborhood family with kids that doesn't "lean heavily" on either of the two centers. His daughter goes to school at the Loyal Heights Community Center three days a week and is scheduled for four days a week next year.

If the cuts don't come this year, they surely will next, when the Parks Department faces cuts of more than $10 million and more than 100 full-time positions.

"We are completely behind the 8-ball," Tischler said.

It's ironic, since McGinn made his mark running the 2008 levy campaign. Now, new parks seem to be the last thing we need.

But we've already approved $2.5 million to turn Bell Street into a park boulevard, and putting a new playground in at Golden Gardens.

It's just now, hundreds of kids may not have a park, a preschool or, in some cases, a pool because of the budget woes. It's going to be a long summer.

City Council members make great hay about the schools not being their problem, but thousands of kids attend preschool at the city's community centers.

If those programs are cut, we're essentially hurting one of the systems that get kids ready for public schools.

The centers also make Seattle what it is proud to be: a city of neighborhoods.

"You move to Seattle not because of the schools, but because of the neighborhoods," Tischler said. "And if they cut these centers, you wonder: What is the city, then?"

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

What's summer without a pool?

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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