By BRITTNEY MARTIN Austin Bureau email@example.com
Published: 27 May 2013 10:55 PM
Updated: 28 May 2013 12:03 AM
AUSTIN — Local governments will begin to receive some financial help to build new facilities and acquire park land under the next state budget.
Local parks took a blow two years ago, when state grant programs were slashed completely. The grants provide 50 percent matching funds to local governments to support growth. They’ve helped fund 47 park projects in Dallas and Tarrant counties in the last decade.
Dallas’ Elm Fork Athletic Complex and College Park and Five-Mile Creek Trail received $2 million in 2008 and 2009 but are under construction. The city says it has a $2 billion backlog of parks projects.
“Anything from trail construction to athletic fields to playgrounds to land acquisition, we can always identify a project that can benefit from those funds,” said Michael Hellman, park-planning manager for the city.
After the deep budget cuts of 2011, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department was careful to ask the state for a realistic amount. While $15.5 million is being restored to the grant programs over the next two years, that’s less than half of what the program had in 2010-11 and significantly less than the $49.5 million of 2008-09.
Budget writers not only granted the request, they tackled on $869,000 to maintain administrative staff so they wouldn’t count against grant funding.
But for the past two years, cities have not been able to request grants, creating a backlog. While local parks were not in danger of closing, they were unable to get state assistance to expand existing parks or build new facilities.
“They basically just maintained us at status quo,” said the director of the Recreation Grants Branch, Tim Hogsett of the past two years. “We were not given new grant money but they maintained money in the budget for us to be able to administer active grants that had been approved previously.”
Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, pushed to get the grants restored.
“You need to use some state resources to have parks where people that depend on public transportation can get to them,” Whitmire said. “It’s great to have a park in the Big Bend, but who in the world can get to the Big Bend?”
Hinojosa pushed for the grant funding until the last budget meeting Friday, where the committee agreed to allocate the funds.