Do I have a problem with Metro Parks going over budget? It depends. There may be good reasons for going over budget.
In this morning's Tennessean, CM Michael Craddock, who treats all budget overages on a knee-jerk flat, is only half right. There are no excuses for going over budget. But there are good reasons.
For instance, if Metro Parks goes over budget because it reopens and expands community center hours on weekends, that overage serves the broadest number of people and neighborhoods at the base of the pecking order.
More money devoted to Parks spending also serves other Metro departments by saving them money. How, you might ask? Well, if Morgan Park Community Center provided a robust program for teenagers seven days a week instead of closing on weekends and early evenings, Salemtown might have fewer problems with vandalism of public property by bored teens. Less vandalism means fewer calls to Public Works to use Metro funds to fix breakage. Unengaged youth are also more likely to participate in criminal activity like burglaries and drug sales. Providing more sports, crafts and social programming can engage teens. Less criminal activity means fewer neighbor calls to police, who have to use Metro funds to respond, to report, to investigate and to arrest.
So, there are good reasons why Metro Parks should overspend its budget.
That said, keeping golf courses open is a terrible reason. What makes Metro Parks' current overage inappropriate is not the overage itself, but the minimal, narrow bang for the buck occurring in the golf-course overage. I would like to see Parks Director Roy Wilson demonstrate that there is a greater demand to keep golf courses open than there is to keep community centers open.
Bored middle-class, middle-aged men deprived of the links are not likely to tag signs or break street lights or commit thefts. Opening golf courses in the winter serves a relatively elite group who have the luxury of other benign pursuits if golf isn't available. And it does not serve any other Metro department unless said department has worked out a deal with Parks for free winter golf for its employees (council members stopping getting to play free golf in 2006).
Parks' irresponsible spending habits are likely to evoke a vindictive slashing mood next year on the part of self-proclaimed budget hawks on the council. Slashes in their budget are most likely to hurt neighborhoods than they are Metro Parks, and if Director Wilson is of a mind to extend golf course hours again next year, I believe he'll do so by cutting vital community services that will hurt those of us who don't choose to play golf. Mr. Wilson is under little community pressure to keep centers open; the council members who may decide to cut his budget will be.