Kirkland budget cuts start to show: Public garbage cans removed, restrooms closed
By CARRIE RODRIGUEZ
Kirkland Reporter Editor
January 12, 2010 · Updated 9:23 AM
After a year of budget talk, number crunching has become more tangible for many residents in the City of Kirkland.
At the start of the year, residents went without an official New Year Polar Plunge that the city has hosted the past several years to kick off the New Year.
Residents have also recently noticed other effects of the budget cuts in their neighborhood parks.
At first, Highlands resident Andrea Gerth thought someone stole the garbage cans when she walked through Spinney Homestead Park last week.
But then she noticed the portable restrooms were missing too.
“There was trash in the park and a broken bottle by the playground,” said Gerth, who frequents the park with her two sons and dog.
She also saw a pile of dog bags people had thrown where the garbage can was after they cleaned up after their dogs. A sign posted at the site advises residents to pick up after themselves.
According to Jennifer Schroeder, Kirkland Parks and Community Services director, the department has reduced its budget by $600,000. As part of those reductions, the city removed about 50 garbage cans throughout 17 neighborhood parks recently. The move saves the city approximately $40,000.
In addition, the city removed 11 portable restrooms from several parks (a more than $10,000 savings) and closed the restrooms at the South Rose Hill, North Kirkland Community Center and Phyllis A. Needy Houghton neighborhood parks.
Similar to the Washington State parks Pack it Out Program, the city encourages residents to pack up their own garbage and take it out of the park.
“If someone goes for a picnic, what we're asking residents to do is take the garbage with them,” said Schroeder, adding the department has developed signage to advise residents. “We're no longer providing the convenience of garbage cans. It all ends up being a cost for labor, materials and transportation.”
Other department reductions include the loss of irrigation to park's athletic fields, a reduction in landscape services, and the loss of four full-time staff positions and several programs, including Concerts in the Park.
Gerth feels the loss of garbage cans will be “detrimental” to neighborhood parks.
“There's going to be more trash,” she said. “One concern I have is people hardly pick up after their dogs now with garbage cans. They're going to be resistant to carry (the dog waste) on their whole walk. Our kids are going to be playing in more droppings in the park.”
She added various sports groups, including Lake Washington Youth Soccer, use the athletic field at Spinney Homestead Park. Jason Filan, Parks manager, said the department has notified the sports groups that the budget reductions will impact the level of service at the parks.
Gerth, a member of the Highlands Neighborhood Association Board, is looking for ways to organize volunteers to clean up her neighborhood park.
“It's getting the commitment to have someone out there,” she said. “Yesterday, I took a trash bag with me to pick up trash. That's probably what I'll start doing.”
Heathman Hotel General Manager Les Utley has already taken the lead on that commitment. Looking at ways his management team could participate and support the community, he recently contacted the city and offered to adopt Heritage Park.
“I had this feeling that all too often companies will write a check to support things,” said Utley. “We thought it would be more meaningful to contribute man hours.”
Beginning this month, Utley and his management team will commit a full day of service every month at Heritage Park, weeding, pruning, picking up trash, and dog litter. He has also invited the West of Market Neighborhood Association to participate.
“One of the neat things we find cool about Heritage Park is the nesting bald eagles that call the park home,” Utley added. “We're pretty excited about it and we welcome anyone in the community to join us.”
As an added incentive, the hotel's Trellis restaurant will provide brown bag lunches to everyone who participates.
“Ultimately, what I would really like to see is a number of companies and associations take our lead and pick up other parks,” he said.Contact Kirkland Reporter Editor Carrie Rodriguez at email@example.com or 1-425-822-9166 (ext 5050).