Dead grass and wilting trees could be signs of Modesto's budget cuts this summer as the city scales back park maintenance and recreation programs to the tune of $1.8 million.
Parks Director Julie Hannon is looking for volunteers to fill in for some of the services the city can't provide over the next year.
She spoke with The Bee about the ways residents can get involved, from watering the lawn at eight small "parkettes" to cleaning up trails.
Q: What exactly is a parkette?
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A: A mini park. A lot of times they might have been donated to the city by a developer.
Q: How can people step in to do some of the maintenance and water the city can't afford?
A: We have a list broken down by each parkette and how much it costs for maintenance. They could work with their neighborhoods to raise money and put it in the community foundation as a tax-deductible donation. We'd keep the maintenance in our contract with Grover Landscape Services.
That's the way to do it that doesn't involve sweat equity.
The second way is to meet with your neighbors and see if one of them has a riding mower to keep up the grass and decide whether you want to water the park or pay to have it watered.
Q: What are some other ways that people can get involved with parks?
A: We have the NEAT — Neighborhood Environmental Action Team — program. People can just go and do basic maintenance on a park. The La Loma Neighborhood Association does a monthly sweep at Kewin Park.
We have people who walk trails every day, like our "graffiti grandmas." They walk through parks and remove graffiti when they see it.
We also have the "Adopt a Park" program for larger donors. They can sponsor a park's watering and maintenance.
The other thing we could really use is a standby graffiti crew. Right now, we only have two folks in the Public Works Department to remove graffiti, and they might be backlogged.
Anything that anyone has an idea for to partner with parks, we're open to it.
Q: Your position is emblematic of the city's budget cuts. Two years ago, the city had a parks director and two deputy parks directors. Now it's just you. What's the workload like?
A: It can be exhausting. We're trying to work with the community at every potential opportunity. That's going to be critical. We have a lot of staff members who have really stepped up to help the city.
Q: The city in 2002 budgeted $37.8 million for law enforcement and $16.1 million for parks. This year, you're looking at more than $52 million for police and about $10.3 million for parks. How will parks compete for funding when crime is a top priority for most residents?
A: To get into a debate about which is more important, police or parks, is not healthy. Good communities need public safety and they need parks.
Creativity and flexibility is going to be key in all of this, looking for new ways of doing things.
Q: Where should someone start?
A: We're going to free up a recreation coordinator to oversee all of the volunteer projects we have. Advancing Vibrant Communities, the church group, gets about 800 people out on some weekends. It's just a better way to respond to the community who wants to help us.
Recreation coordinator Heather Grigsby is managing volunteer projects. Call her at 577-5445.
Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.