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The Local Agenda: Parks and Rec may take dip in reserves to balance budget
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The Gainesville Parks and Recreation Agency could be dipping into reserves to balance its budget for the next fiscal year.

That’s according to the proposed $4 million department budget handed to City Council this month.

In addition to the $137,000 in earmarked reserves, City Manager Kip Padgett is also proposing a millage rate, or property tax, roll-up for the department’s fund as well.

Parks and Recreation is funded by a separate property tax fund that’s currently set at .75 mills. One mill equals $1 on every $1,000 of taxable value. The city currently projects a roll-up would raise the rate to .79 mills.

Padgett has also recommended roll-ups for the general fund and debt service fund.

The department’s other major revenue stream, fed by charges for services, is actually seeing some mild improvement, officials said.

Parks and Recreation has enjoyed increases in participation both from within and beyond city limits. Earlier this year, deputy parks director Michael Graham reported participation jumped last year by more than 1,800 youth participants from 3,162 in 2010 to 4,972.

The department also has implemented gradual increases in participation fees.

But the Parks and Recreation advisory board has been hesitant to put too much of a burden on user fees to cover program costs because it is a government agency.

And officials say the increases that have been implemented aren’t enough to contend with declining property values.

In the proposed budget, 38 percent of projected revenues would come from participant fees; 59 percent comes from property taxes; the rest would come from the fund balance and injections from other city funds — including $75,000 from the city’s hotel tax.

The entire tax digest for Gainesville is expected to drop 7 percent in fiscal year 2013. That follows a 9 percent drop in 2012.

This year won’t be the first time the Parks and Recreation Agency earmarked reserves. Last year, $369,000 of its reserve fund was budgeted to balance the current fiscal year.

However, parks Director Melvin Cooper told City Council in April that reserve money hasn’t been needed yet and the department is currently operating under its budgeted plan.

Aaron Hale covers government issues for The Times. Share your thoughts, news tips and questions with him: