By Anna Lieberman • Intern • 

Park aesthetics to be prioritized in coming years

Marcus Larson / News-Register##Darrell King pulls and cuts back weeds along West McMinnville Linear Park, where he and his wife, Lucy, enjoy walking.
Marcus Larson / News-Register##Darrell King pulls and cuts back weeds along West McMinnville Linear Park, where he and his wife, Lucy, enjoy walking.

Lucy King remembers how the streets neighboring Roma Sitton Memorial Park looked when she moved nearby 10 years ago. The north end of the West McMinnville Linear Park had lush, healthy greenery lining its edges.

A few weeks ago, King found much of the bordering greenery weed infested, dead or taken over by wild blackberries.

For the past few years, King and her husband Darrell have periodically tended to patches of dying vegetation in the park between Baker Creek and Wallace Road. Some days, they wake up early and drive their weed cutters and other garden tools into shrubbery that need the most care.

The two spend hours pulling weeds themselves.

“Our parks, they’re so beautiful. Everything’s been so beautiful,” Lucy said.

She pointed to a pile of long weeds she’d just pulled from the ground.

“This just makes me feel sad. And I don’t want to walk here. I don’t want to walk and go, ‘Oh my god, look at how bad this is.’”

King is among many people who frequent the popular trail, walking dogs, jogging, strolling. When they see King working, some say thank you or commend her on her progress, but no one stops to help.

“Something can be done,” King said. “It could be better. I just do it because I want to. I want it to be pretty again, or at least decent.”

King has contacted the city, but after years of hearing the same response, she’s stopped calling.

“They always tell me the same thing,” she said. “They wish they could do it, but they just don’t have enough people and money to hire.”

Public Works is in charge of maintaining McMinnville’s parks. The department keeps a running log of citizen complaints made about those areas and responds to each one. But Public Works Superintendent David Renshaw said he can’t guarantee everyone will like the response.

He said the department deals with city code violation complaints, like shrubbery in people’s path or weeds being a fire hazard. It also quickly takes care of trash and graffiti complaints, but due to limited staffing and funds, aesthetic concerns aren’t often dealt with right away.

Most get added to a landscape clean-up schedule. In highly frequented areas like near City Hall, clean-ups occur every week or two, depending on the landscape needs. But in lower-service level areas, like the linear park, this happens about once or twice a year.

“And that’s not enough,” Renshaw said, noting financial constraints have limited maintenance.

The city’s allocation for maintenance was reduced in the 2013 General Fund budget, Renshaw said, and work on buildings, water features and other resources were prioritized ahead of some beautification issues.

In a letter describing a parks maintenance budget request written by Renshaw in 2013, he said, “Given our understanding of the current fiscal situation in the General Fund, we took a service level reduction approach, and have reduced the budget request by about 5 percent relative to last year’s amended budget level. Approximately $87,000 of reductions have been identified.”

The letter outlines what services would continue and what would be reduced. Among the reductions were beautification of streets, irrigation and mowing in most neighborhood parks, and general park services.

“We knew at the time that park aesthetics were going to suffer,” Renshaw said.

Although these areas are still managed, they are at lesser frequencies. For example, mowing in most neighborhood parks only happens in the spring time when weather conditions promote grass growth.

“I’ll be the first to tell you that in terms of aesthetics, our parks aren’t where we want them to be,” Renshaw said. “We have a highly skilled competent staff, but we made choices. And when things were tight, we knew some things would suffer.”

He emphasized how thankful he is for volunteers like King who help when the city isn’t able to.

“This is a great community,” he said.

And he’s hopeful park aesthetics improve in the current fiscal year.

During the budgeting process in May, Mayor Scott Hill acknowledged the effect the 2013-2014 budget constraints had on parks.

“Over time, the aesthetics in parks has been diminished, maintenance backlogs continue to grow, and aging facilities and negative park user behaviors result in more maintenance demands,” he wrote in a memo.

Hill recommended an additional utility worker and an increased budget for supporting materials, all part of a two-year plan.

The 2018-2019 proposed Park Maintenance budget states the efforts could “move the Division closer to pre-2013-14 service levels.”

Some services returning include neighborhood parks receiving consistent irrigation and mowing. The irrigation systems that were turned off in 2013 will go back online, and as the dying greenery grows back, frequent mowing will be scheduled.

The department’s proposed budget for 2018-2019 is $1,328,774, up from the amended budget of $1,176,863 in the 2017-2018 fiscal year.

“There’s a big thrust now to chip in to make it better,” Renshaw said. “We didn’t get here in a year and we won’t get out of it in a year. It will be a process.”

Renshaw encouraged anyone with maintenance concerns to contact his department. He wants to fix the problems as best he can, and is confident the increased efforts will have a positive influence over time.The new budget is a start.

Residents can submit concerns or complaints to mcminnvilleoregon.gov/contact, or by calling 503-434-7316.

Comments

americanPATRIOT

How about having non violent offenders at the jail work on the parks. Make the homeless people who thrash downtown pick it up. Just a thought

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