Greensboro city manager defends proposed cuts to playgrounds, school crossing guard programs

by Jordan Green

Greensboro City Manager Rashad Young defended a proposal to eliminate summer park programs and school crossing guard programs during a budget town hall meeting at Greensboro Historical Museum on Monday.

Six of the affected parks are located in District 1 in the city’s southeast quadrant, while four are located in District 5, in the southwest quadrant. Two each are located in districts 2 and 3, and one is located in District 4. District 1 also bears the brunt of cuts to the crossing guard program, with 9 locations there, compared to eight across the four other districts.

Young has asked all departments to make cuts to close a $9.5 million budget gap. The parks and recreation department has been asked to cut $800,000.

Parks and Recreation Director Greg Jackson said the city is considering increasing the number of slots at recreation centers to absorb the children who will no longer be served by city employees on duty during the daytime. The city might offer scholarships or waive fees, he added.

“It’s truly a more structured program, as opposed to a playground where kids can just come and go as they please, so if they come to a rec center, they have to stay there during the whole day from the time their parents drop them off in the morning until they pick them up in the afternoon.”

The city would save $94,000 by eliminating staffing at the playgrounds, Jackson said.

Young said every cent of cuts to the parks and recreation budget will affect children in some way.

“Everything they do is for children,” he said.

“We’re cutting $800,000…. If we didn’t cut this, we’d be cutting rec programs in the summer. We’d be cutting athletic programs that kids participate in. We wouldn’t be making neighborhood pool repairs.”

Southeast Greensboro resident Sharon Hightower argued that cutting the summer playground program is likely to exact the severest impact on poor children.

“These are kids that are on free and reduced lunch,” she said. “A lot of them have parents who do work that just work on such a low, limited income that that’s why they fall into the criteria, and now you’re depending on them for transportation.”

The elimination of the school crossing guard program under consideration by the city would save an estimated $339,000.

“My issue and concern is the service business that we are in,” Young said. “We’re not in the education business. We don’t transport young people to school. For just one aspect of transportation — walking — we have assumed responsibility to make sure they have safe passage. But that is not a function, in my view of city government, particularly when we’re trying to deal with a deficit that we’re trying to deal with and focus on our core services.”

Young said that he has spoken with Guilford County Schools Superintendent Mo Green about having the public schools take over responsibility for the program, but the schools are facing a difficult budget situation also.

James Smith, a New Irving Park resident in District 3, challenged the city manager to find a way to maintain the program.

“At the end of the day, the safety of children is our number-one priority,” Smith said. “We might not be in the school business, but we ought to be in the people safety business.”

Young also discussed bond spending for the year. The city is planning to spend $40 million in bonds approved in 2000, 2006, 2008 and 2009 in fiscal year 2010-2011. That is the maximum amount the city can spend without raising taxes or restructuring its debt in a way that would negatively affect its bond rating.

A handful of residents from the Aycock Historic District attended the meeting, and asked Young to expedite streetscaping improvements on Summit Avenue in conjunction with construction of the Downtown Greenway. The proposed bond schedule allocates $1.5 million for construction of the Murrow Boulevard leg of the greenway, but Young said he did not know whether money for Summit Avenue is in the project budget for the coming fiscal year or the next. The 2010-2011 list includes $4 million for street improvements, mainly for Horsepen Creek Road, while the following year includes $7 million for street improvements.

Young said the city is currently planning to eliminate about 60 positions, including about 20 that are currently filled to help close the budget gap.

“Unfortunately, there will be filled positions that will be affected,” Young said. “Those individuals will be either placed in other positions, if we have them, or — what is a likely scenario — be jobless come July 1.”