15 Sep 2014
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County Considers Closing Parks in Budget-Saving Move

County Executive Charlie Dooley proposed closing 20 county parks and a community center to help cut $10 million from the 2012 budget.

County Considers Closing Parks in Budget-Saving Move County Considers Closing Parks in Budget-Saving Move

Suson Park was among the list of 20 St. Louis County Parks County Executive Charlie Dooley recommended closing when first proposing the 2012 budget. The efforts could save $10 million out of a $357.8 million operating fund. 

Dooley's budget would also close St. Vincent Community Center, the pools at North County and  recreation centers and the farm animals exhibit at , according to the budget summary. Of the 175 jobs that would be eliminated county-wide, about 135 would come from the Department of Parks and Recreation.

"This is the most difficult decision I have had to make in my more than a quarter century of public service," Dooley wrote in a letter accompanying the budget.

The County Council meets Tuesday at 6 p.m., and residents will be able to comment on the proposed budget at the first public budget hearing immediately after the County Council meeting at 41 S. Central Ave. in Clayton. County Council meetings usually end at about 6:30 p.m.

County Council Chairman Steve Stenger told the  Post-Dispatch that the proposal was merely a scare tactic used to make the council take another look at . 

"I believe the administration recommended the closing of prominent parks such as Lone Elk and George Winter to achieve a dramatic effect and to put pressure on the council,"  Stenger said in the article. "But the administration could make these closures and job cuts any time. They don't require the approval of the County Council. We don't hire. We don't fire. We don't close parks."

Residents' Reactions

County residents took to social media to express their disappointment over potentially losing their favorite parks.

“While Pujols is asking for millions of more dollars, St. Louis County is considering closing 20 public parks,” tweeted Manchester resident Emily Anne Cooper. “Just a sad juxtaposition.”

Chesterfield resident Liz Pund said she was “shocked and disappointed” when she heard the news. She spread the word on Twitter, asking others to help brainstorm solutions.

“It would be a real, tangible loss to St. Louisans to lose these important spaces,” she said.

For now, Pund says she thinks Dooley might just be angling for tax increases.

“It’s hard to tell how real the threat is,” Pund said. “If it turns out that this is a real threat, I would like to help organize St. Louis County residents in opposition to it.”

Alex Ihnen, a University City resident who visits Lone Elk Park several times a year, called the potential parks closures “the narrative that best reveals the current and future challenges” for St. Louis County.

“Parks need advocates,” Ihnen wrote in a blog post titled “ The Canary in the Suburban Coal Mine.” But when parks can only stay open because of private funding, he said. “Our community becomes a reflection of the values of regional wealth, of those who can raise and give money."

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