Cincinnati Park Board implements innovative budget-saving measures to spare cuts

City governments across the United States have been struggling with budget deficits for years as the economy has struggled. Those struggles will more than likely worsen for Cincinnati, and other cities in Ohio, as they deal with a 50 percent reduction in state support.

Parks are one of those locally impacted items. For 2011, the Cincinnati Park Board saw a 34 percent cut to its general fund as city officials looked to close a budget deficit. Fortunately, park officials were able to avoid closing any parks and maintain its current number of employees through a variety of innovative measures.

“A 34 percent cut in the park board’s budget is fairly typical for what we are seeing around the country – perhaps even worse than average,” stated Peter Harnik, Director, Center for City Park Excellence with the Trust for Public Land.

One of the innovative measures employed by the Cincinnati Park Board is a new program that is utilizing student labor from the University of Cincinnati. The 75 students, park officials say, are able to gain career-related experience while the park board maintains its service levels. The students’ wages are 75 percent paid through a federal grant, while the park board picks up the remaining amount.

“Substituting partially-federally-subsidized student workers for traditional park workers is certainly a creative approach to a very bad problem,” Harnik said.

The director of the Center for City Park Excellence also expressed concern that the 75 student positions might be replacing higher-paid, and potentially, family-supporting workers.

“Nevertheless, from the parks’ perspective, it’s a very good solution, and the agency’s creativity and can-do attitude is to be applauded.”

To help deal with budget cuts the park board is also implementing new trash collection policies, implementing the national Leave No Trace program, and reducing operations at some parks throughout the city.

Piatt Park photograph by UrbanCincy contributor Thadd Fiala.