Kent (WA) parks staff to “justify expenditures and create accountability”

City staff revealed a new detail-oriented playbook for crews to perform and track maintenance at Kent’s 55 parks in an effort to evolve the system.

Parks Director Julie Parascondola told the City Council at its Tuesday workshop that the maintenance management plan is the result of six months of work by parks employees.

“We need to justify expenditures and create accountability to the city government and to the parks staff doing the work,” Parascondola said. “We need equitable delivery for a park on the west side and a park on the east side so we have equitable maintenance delivery with one system across the city. We need to document, train and communicate our maintenance levels and services.”

Council members received several documents from Parascondola that detailed what type of maintenance and how often each task needs to be done at each of the 55 parks.

“They are trying to establish a clear purpose and direction (for staff),” Council President Bill Boyce said as he summarized the presentation about parks maintenance and service levels. “They are striving for excellence and best practices about how you best manage parks and are we meeting the service level agreement.”

The council approved in November a hike in the business and occupation square footage tax starting in 2019 to bring in about $3 million per year to help pay for parks maintenance. The hike to 6 cents per square foot per quarter from 3 cents will impact about 680 businesses, according to city documents.

“This was a real grassroots issue with the parks department,” Parascondola said about the new plan. “I delivered some framework but they put in the hard work to debate about how to look at the system equitably across the board. … Telling our story with a solid policy and procedure planning in place is going to help us in the long term.”

The plan also includes measures to make sure the parks department is using funds effectively and measures if it is achieving the service levels desired.

Staff divided parks by tiers based on how much maintenance is needed to keep the parks in working order. The higher the number, the more recreational value of the park and the more maintenance required, including those with athletic fields such as Hogan Park at Russell Road or Kent Memorial Park as well as a community park such as Lake Meridian Park.

Lowered-tiered parks include neighborhood parks, skate parks and small tot lots. Less maintenance is needed to keep those parks at an operational level.

With 35 parks employees, department leaders decided to realign staff to help differentiate between routine and preventative maintenance that will include the creation of a new preventative maintenance team. Crews also will be formed to align their skills to focus on athletic complexes/ball fields, natural areas and urban forestry.

Staff also will study the athletic complexes to determine if rental fees are at the right level.

“We are looking at the current uses of the complexes and taking a review of cost recovery and balance against revenues generated,” said Garin Lee, park operations superintendent. “We will do a study in 2019 to analyze field use to see if we are optimizing use of the facilities. We will be back later this year or early next year with more details.” – By Steve Hunter, Kent Reporter