A park, trail or a recreational facility within a half-mile of every resident of Henderson.
That has been the vision of city officials as the city has grown, a commitment that probably will be deferred for the next few years.
“That is the goal of the city to have a park or trail within a half-mile of every resident,” City Manager Jacob Snow said. “But this could possibly be delayed due to available funds.”
Henderson has nearly 1,200 acres of parks, open space and civic grounds. The city opened its 58th park, Horizon Crest Park, on April 5 with a ribbon cutting attended by government leaders and employees, and a few families who happened to wander by, taking part in the free cookies and bottled water.
City Councilman Sam Bateman said at the ceremony that the city and its residents take pride in its parks and recreation facilities.
“That’s why people chose to live in Henderson,” Bateman said. “These great facilities and opportunities that are close to them and their communities. They can live anywhere in Henderson and have these great facilities.”
The $3.2 million, 4½-acre park was built, like many Henderson parks in the past decade, with funding from the Bureau of Land Management’s Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act. The city has used about $238 million of that federal money to build parks, trails and open spaces.
The city has another $54 million in federal money tied into other park, open space and trail projects, some of which are still in the design stages.
Despite a Special Budget Ad Hoc Committee report released in February suggesting the city delay opening any new parks, the City Council approved construction contracts for two new parks: $1.6 million Boulder Creek Park and $3.5 million McCullough Vista Neighborhood Park.
“Parks and trails are essential to our residents’ quality of life and to our public safety,” Snow said.
Bob Murnane, director of public works, parks and recreation, said turning down parks built with federal money is hard.
And it’s not just parks built with federal money. New housing developments Inspirada in west Henderson and Cadence outside Lake Las Vegas also are building parks that will be turned over to the city for maintenance after construction.
The question, however, is with the city struggling with a $17 million annual infrastructure reinvestment shortfall, is the maintenance of the parks going to be able to keep pace?
The answer is “no,” and some maintenance already is falling behind.
The number of parks in Henderson has grown from 45 in 2009 to 58. But the full-time staff maintaining parks has grown by only two, from 75 to 77. The city has added 6½ full-time equivalent positions through part-time hires, up from one in 2009. In 2009, the city spent $7.4 million in salaries and wages for parks maintenance, and it budgeted $7.5 million this year to cover 13 new parks since then.
While staffing has not matched park growth, the money to replace and repair older parks also has declined. Deferred parks maintenance and equipment replacement is at a $665,000 annual shortfall, according to the recent Special Budget Ad Hoc Committee report. That includes parking lot and trail asphalt repair or replacement, repairing irrigation systems and playground resurfacing or repair.
“Over the course of the economic downturn all departments have been asked to implement cost-saving strategies and streamline processes whenever possible,” Murnane said.
“We are still committed to doing all we can, but it will have to be within the bounds of what we can do financially,” Snow said. “Obviously that will have to change somewhat due to our financial circumstances, but we will continue to do the best we can with the resources we have.”
Resident John Craft said during an April 9 community meeting discussing the budget that the city should not have been opening new parks during the downturn if it didn’t have the money to maintain them because it now is affecting other services, such as reduced hours at the Valley View Recreation Center, where he plays racquetball.
“You should have stopped doing that back in 2005 or whenever the money started going down,” he said. “They haven’t done a very good job.”
The city is not able to bank money from the Southern Nevada Land Management Act, so the funding to build parks would be lost. Henderson can’t use the money for maintenance costs, just construction. That has driven the city to follow a Parks and Recreation Master Plan prepared in 2009 and figure out how to maintain parks later.
City officials are looking to outsource some of the maintenance work, similar to the contractors that maintain the medians on Boulder Highway. The city pulled its park maintenance workers off the medians, giving more coverage to parks.
“Are we using our park staff to the best that we can?” asked Sheri Ferguson, assistant director for public works, parks and recreation, during an April 8 community outreach at Whitney Ranch Recreation Center. “Are there some opportunities to contracting out some services there?”
Murnane said the city is looking at outsourcing maintenance for much of its 108 miles of trails.
Outsourcing, however, has raised the concerns of employee unions, according to some city officials. The park maintenance staff is protected by collective bargaining agreements, and the unions don’t want contract workers replacing city employees.
Parks in Henderson range in size from Heritage Park (160 acres opened in 2013) at South Racetrack Road, Cornerstone Park (100 acres opened in 2012) on Wigwam Parkway at Stephanie Street, to small parks such as Horizon Crest.
Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at email@example.com or 702-477-3882. Follow on Twitter @KnightlyGrind