Over the past 40 years, Astorians have shown how much they treasure Astoria’s park land, by building 42 new parks. In 1996, residents showed how much they value health, wellness, and recreation by passing a $2.95 million-dollar bond and fundraising $600,000 to build the Astoria Aquatic Center. Astoria has also increased community recreation services by adding and expanding athletic leagues and tournaments, youth programs, adding health and wellness programs, community and family events, a community garden, Port of Play, and filling an important community need for quality childcare with Lil’ Sprouts Academy. These services have increased Astoria’s livability and made Astoria a desirable place for families, adults, seniors, and youth.
All told, Astoria’s number of parks have increased by 60%, and recreation services have quadrupled over the past 40 years all while full-time employees have decreased by 50%. That means, currently, 3 full-time maintenance employees are maintaining 310 acres - that’s 103 acres of park land per employee, with an annual maintenance expense of $1,800 per acre. In comparison, similar cities in Oregon have an average of 32 full-time employees per acre and an annual maintenance expense of $4,436 per acre. That means Astoria has a growing list of unmet operational and maintenance needs for parks and that the Aquatic Center and recreational services are being provided without sufficient staffing levels. (See more information at the Astoria Parks Website)
Facing a $200,000 short-fall the department has decided to cut many events. The Halloween Monster Bash, The annual Easter Egg Hunt, Fun Runs, are all gone and that's just a few of the big events locals have loved for years that the department just can't provide. Youth and adult recreation programs may go as well. Even though the department has managed to bring in some revenue it doesn't keep pace with expenses.
The Astoria City Council has been working on this funding short-fall with staff and will hold a third workshop, open to the public, on Thursday, May 4 at 6:00pm at City Hall. City Manager Brett Estes says public comment will be taken at that meeting.
Below you will find the full interview with Tom Freel discussing these issues in depth with city officials following Mondays council meeting.