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You can't always get what you want. But, if you try, sometimes you get what you need. The words to the old Rolling Stones song would seem to apply to Astoria's problem with it's Parks and Recreation Department. It's also something for the Astoria City Council and the City Manager to consider. Ask yourself, Do we really NEED all this?

First, let us take a moment to define the problem.

This isn't news but you hear a lot about how many acres of park designated land the department is charged with taking care of year round. It's over 300 acres. The Aquatic Center has proven to be a major deficit builder. The Ocean View Cemetery, located on land in Warrenton doesn't begin to pay for itself and the concept of providing perpetual care has gone out the window as fewer people see the sense in burial and opt for cremation instead. The fund to pay for that long-term upkeep is dwindling. Grounds work, when done properly, requires about 40 hours of mowing and trimming every week most of the year. You haven't even gotten into lawn care and shrubbery work yet. Operating the cemetery includes burials, grave location, disinterment, gravesite sales..etc. This task alone blows a lot of staff time even with the weeds growing and the grass untrimmed.

The Aquatic Center requires lifeguards and management staffing in addition to maintenance of the systems that run both pools, the A/C systems, lighting, locker room and shower upkeep..etc, along with paying staff to execute programs like swimming lessons and the like. This facility would tax the available resources of the department all by itself.

The city has recently farmed out parks trash disposal to Recology with each garbage customer in the city paying a share of that tab. Your property taxes will pay for new trash containers that will include recycling as a little experiment.

Then there is the city trail system. It's quite extensive. It's also a load of work but people love the river trail and the urban forest trails and sometimes volunteer to help but there isn't anyone available to coordinate that sort of work anymore.

The number of actual parks as increased dramatically. Just so we look good for tourists and keep the locals a little happier, the city has identified key parks from one end of the tourist zone to the other that require a higher level of care and farmed that job out to a private landscaping company for just under 100k this year. It includes the River Trail from end to end.

Even hiring private contractors still leaves a lot of work. Meeting halls, neighborhood parks and an endless list of tasks face a very small crew of Parks Department workers.

We haven't even talked about recreation programs yet. That's a can of worms. I'm sure I've forgotten something but you get the idea by now.

It's. Just. too. Much.   It was too late to put the brakes on years ago.

Citizens want even more. In every Parks survey, people want more recreation programs, more, or better playgrounds, studies about better play parks, more afterschool care, more daycare, longer hours at the Aquatic Center, and, by the way, can we make the pool warmer? Well, you can't always get what you want.

On Monday (July 17th) the City Council is expected to talk about a new tax package that would include a monthly $3 extra charge for parks on everybody's water bill. Because that bill comes every other month you will see an increase of $6. Along with that, there will likely be a significant increase in the tax charged tourists to stay in Astoria lodging. 70% of that increase must go to tourism by law. 30% would go to the city General Fund earmarked for Parks, although it would be nice to see another full-time Police Officer instead. I can't always get what I want.

The question does come up about how city Public Works plays into this. It doesn't. That is an enterprise funded department. Your water bill pays for that service. Exactly how the city can legally justify imposing charges for another department on the water bill is a matter of some social media debate.

The council is actively seeking a workable solution but isn't demanding more than the 25K the Parks department has already cut by eliminating things like the Monster Bash and the Easter Egg Hunt and Fun Runs. The backlash just from those cuts is likely to be uncomfortable.

Want to help? Give it some thought and show up at the council meeting. They welcome public comment but please, for the love of God, ask for what you need, not what you want.

Tom Freel

Northwest Lending Group

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