Why can't Kirkland afford to have trash cans in our parks?

If you frequent the smaller neighborhood parks in Kirkland, you have likely noticed that over the winter, trash cans were removed and access to public toilets limited. In place of the trash cans, the city has posted signs reading, "Good Human! Thank you for picking up after your pet!" The signs further instruct the reader on how to use a pet waste bag and "put it in the trash." The only problem is, the city has removed the trash cans from 17 city parks. There is no place to put the dog waste bags so they pile up around the signs. Or the bags are not used at all. This has lead some citizens to ask the question, "why can't Kirkland afford to have trash cans in our parks?"

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Reservoir Park, located in the Norkirk Neighborhood, is one of 17 smaller neighborhood parks which no longer has trash cans. Where trash cans once stood, new signs are posted. One sign instructs park users to pick up dog waste and put it in the non-existant trash. Another sign thanks park users "for packing out what you packed into the park today."

Still, a third sign informs the citizens of Kirkland that the city "is experiencing significant budget problems due in large part to the current economic conditions and the failure of the private utility tax increase in the November, 2009 election. As a result, we have had to make some very difficult decision regarding which services to reduce or eliminate."

The cuts in park services has not been without controversy.

It appears that some dog owners are not finding it convenient to "pack out" their dog's waste. This leads others to question the wisdom of the Parks Department's decision to remove trash cans from our parks. Having bags of dog waste littered in our parks is not good. Such a situation is only preferable to un-bagged dog waste on the ground. It makes some question where our tax dollars are going and how wisely they are spent.

The recent cuts in park services helped reduce the department's budget by $600,000. Removal of about 50 garbage cans throughout 17 neighborhood parks saved the city approximately $40,000. 11 portable restrooms were removed from parks for an additional $10,000 savings. Further savings came from locking doors on some park restrooms.

For some, these reductions in park services are acceptable given the state of the budget. For others, these are highly visible service level reductions characterized as a payback for the citizens' refusal to pass Proposition 1 in November. Proposition 1 was defeated by 61% of voters. It would have increased utility taxes by 1.5%.

Some citizens have cried foul at the cuts in services and have written letters to the city council. One such letter reads,

Is picking up garbage an essential service or not? The decision to retain high salaried employees that serve the manager instead of serving the public was disgusting in more ways than one. Not picking up garbage and closing parks are two more. It could be prevented.

The council is fiddling while watching our services go downhill. When you see the city spending money on nonessential nice things instead of providing essential services, it’s disgusting. The new council needs to put a stop to it.

The cuts in services for the parks have been itemized in the City of Kirkland Summary of 2009-2010 Service Reductions. Parks, Recreation & Community Services have made the following service reductions:

2009

  • Eliminated or reduced special events: Eliminated Outdoor Movie at Juanita Beach Park, Polar Bear Plunge, Easter Egg Hunt and reduced the number of summer concert performances from 21 to 14.
  • Eliminated watering of lawns in non-waterfront parks.
  • Reduced seasonal parks maintenance staff by approximately 30% resulting in lower maintenance levels in non-waterfront parks.
  • Reduced landscaping services in City parks and the Kirkland Cemetery.
  • Reduced lifeguard hours at City beaches by 2 hours per day (from 11am - 7pm to 1 - 7 pm)

2010

  • Eliminated city funding for staff support of the Juanita Bay Ranger Volunteer Program.
  • Reduced staff support for youth and senior programs and special events coordination.
  • Eliminated garbage receptacles and pick-up at the following neighborhood parks:
  • Brookhaven, Forbes Creek, Highlands, Phyllis Needy Houghton, South Juanita, Mark Twain, South Rose Hill, Rose Hill Meadows, North Kirkland Community Center playground, Spinney Homestead, Terrace, Tot Lot, Van Aalst, Woodlands, Cedar View and Watershed.
  • Eliminated portable toilets at the following parks: Juanita Bay, Juanita Beach, Waverly Beach, Marsh Park, Tot Lot, North Kirkland Community Center playground, Terrace, Spinney Homestead, and Woodlands.
  • Closed restrooms (year-round) at the following neighborhood parks: North Kirkland Community Center playground, Phyllis Needy Houghton, and South Rose Hill Parks.
  • Eliminated Mutt Mitts in all parks unless subsidized through donations or grants. • Further reduced maintenance in parks and athletic fields (weeding, irrigation, planting)
  • Further reduced lifeguard hours:
    • Waverly Beach , Monday – Friday 1pm - 5pm, Saturday & Sunday 2pm – 6pm
    • Houghton Beach, Monday – Sunday 1pm – 6pm
  • Reduced parks capital project support.

In an effort to help preserve our parks, local businesses have been asked to Adopt-a-Park and help with maintenance. In January, The Heathman Hotel announced it would participate by adopting Heritage Park, and donate approximately 1,000 man hours.

In a January 12, 2010 KOMONEWS.com ran story on how Kirkland's budget woes caused the removal of trash cans from parks and the closure of public toilets. The article stated that, "The parks department says it had to cuts its budget by $600,000. As a result, one of the first things to go were the public toilets. The city also locked the doors at three park bathrooms, and hauled off the trash cans at 17 more. It laid off four full-time staffers, and steadily cut 22 seasonal workers down to three." The following video was produced with the story: