In other words, if Anniston’s going to write a check, it needs something worthwhile in return. It’s not a civic version of Monopoly. The money’s real.
That’s why it’s good that the city is thinking proactively about its Parks and Recreations Department, historically one of the bigger expenditures on Anniston’s annual budget.
In this instance, give the city a modicum of credit: Looking at PARD as a potential revenue source and not merely as a revenue bleed is the smart way to go; that’s doubly so during these years of prolonged recession.
The sky may not be the limit, of course. Anniston isn’t Birmingham, and the revenue possibilities that exist — visitors for the Anniston Museum of Natural History’s upcoming botanical gardens, for instance — may take time before they becomes rock-solid sources of income.
Nevertheless, as Star reporter and Community Journalism fellow Rachel Bennett explained in a three-part series earlier this week, the museum’s botanical gardens is but one example of city leaders envisioning PARD’s programs and ever-changing facilities becoming more than a depressing line item on the annual expense sheet.
That’s good — if not a necessity. PARD, like any city expense, has to be worth the cost. If it generates a little green for the city’s bank accounts, then all the better.
It’s no secret that PARD expenses have long been a point of concern for those who monitor Anniston’s budget. In 2008, Bennett explained, Anniston spent 12.8 percent of its budget — $3.8 million — on parks and recreation. Research done by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama showed that Anniston spent more money per capita on recreational and cultural expenditures than any other city in the state.
Thus, it’s easy to connect those dots and see why the city began the painful — and highly controversial — process of shutting down a few of its community centers several years ago. For a city with stagnant population growth, spending that much on PARD is a tough sell.
In truth, what’s happening is not only a quest for additional revenue, it’s the formation of a new thought process about recreation and cultural activities. Call it the quality-of-life conversation — one that Anniston’s leaders should have embraced long ago.
What’s being done with PARD is nether unique nor revolutionary: expanding activities for senior citizens, modernizing city gyms and swimming pools, creating more space and time for youth programs. Don’t forget to throw the museum’s botanical gardens in that mix.
But those improvements can become part of Anniston, much in the way Oxford Lake has long been cemented as part of Oxford’s daily life. Anniston can become known as a town that invests in its recreational offerings; if that lures visitors and their dollars, then so be it.
Now, if only Anniston would invest in its still-incomplete part of the Chief Ladiga Trail. That would be money well spent.