The grass is greener in some Boise parks than others this year.
Clover, dandelions and thistle are flourishing in a handful of parks, and the hum of mowers is less frequent.
Neighbors have wondered why their parks once a source of pride are going to pot. And why there was no public notice of the change.
But this was planned neglect. Its a six-month test.
We thought it was very important to take a scientific approach lets see what the citizens observe, and to what degree, and how they feel, said Jade Riley, chief of staff for Mayor Dave Bieter.
City officials wanted to see the effects of cutting back on maintenance in the parks and the untainted response from users.
Park assets are some of the top pride of the city, and we are not doing this pilot flippantly, said Riley. We felt like taxpayers expect us to look at different alternatives.
The department maintains much more than most people realize: 104 parks, three cemeteries, Zoo Boise, Warm Springs Golf Course, Idaho IceWorld, four community centers, 140 miles of trails, 27 medians and other rights-of-way totaling 82 acres.
Theres no immediate need for the parks department to trim costs or cut services but there might be in the future. City staff is always encouraged to look for low-impact cost reductions, Riley said.
Six parks and six medians/rights of way were selected for reduced maintenance every-other-week mowing, less watering, no weeding beginning in early April.
If implemented in all neighborhood and community parks, the program could save the city $340,000 annually.
The pilot program was launched quietly, but park users who inquire are encouraged to take a survey on the citys website.
The comments have been fairly one-sided and scathing.
The grade for this test would be an F, said one. The park looks a mess and feels unsafe.
NOT ... OPEN GOVERNMENT
The maintenance reduction program surprised parks commissioners.
There were some discussions about trying to do some pilot program or experiments, but decisions were made before we knew about it, said Thomas Chandler, a Boise attorney and longtime member of the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Neil Fausey, whose house abuts the 11-acre DeMeyer Park in West Boise, called the city in early May after watching the grass grow and grow so high that kids had trouble playing soccer.
I said, I never received anything in the mail about it.. They said, Youre not going to. We want to see how many people notice it and call, Fausey said.
Thats not very good open government, the retiree said. How many people know where to call, and how many people would call? To me, thats not a fair way to assess the impact.
Chandler and other parks commissioners learned about the maintenance reduction at a meeting in late April.
Parks staff recommended to city leaders that neighborhoods be notified about the cutbacks, but the mayor and council elected not to make a notification because they wanted to wait and see what comments might be received, according to minutes from the commissions April 19 meeting.
Several parks commissioners, including Cissy Madigan and Maggie Frole Spurling, voiced strong opposition to leaving residents in the dark. Commissioner Chandler said a memo would be sent to the mayor and council, informing them of the commissions opposition to the maintenance reduction plan and its recommendation to notify the public if it was implemented.
That memo was never sent, Chandler said this week, but parks staff did collect public feedback and forwarded comments to city officials.
We felt the best course of action was to just talk to people, said Chandler, who wasnt surprised by the publics strong reaction.
People were upset, so we said lets try to get some information together and get everyone on the same page, he said, referring in part to communication between the mayor and council and the parks commission.
Chandler said he understands city officials need to balance the budget and cut expenses. But he said the public should be consulted about where the cuts can be made.
It should be from the bottom up we should ask the community: How do you want your parks maintained? Where do you want your money spent? Chandler said.
Riley said the City Council in the fall will review photos taken by parks staff and comments from park users. It also will solicit comments from the general public.
I know a lot of them, in fact, are doing drive-bys to validate what they will be getting from staff, Riley said.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413