Triangle governments are axing and trimming popular programs, events and services, from street festivals and parades in Raleigh to community centers in Cary to Durham's Fourth of July festivities.
Amid recession-driven revenue shortfalls, city and county managers are struggling to protect core programs such as police and fire departments in budget proposals that must be approved by the July 1 start of the next fiscal year.
They're putting discretionary expenditures on the chopping block, including recreation programs, despite the longevity of some and their popularity with residents.
In Raleigh, officials are considering slashing the city's participation in the St. Patrick's Day Parade and Raleigh Wide Open, a downtown festival. They're also eyeing fewer hours at community centers, a shorter July 4th celebration and the closing of the Shelley Lake boathouse.
Of the $25 million in cuts proposed by City Manager Russell Allen, taxpayers may feel most directly the reductions to the city's parks and recreation programs and outdoor events. Those cuts include about $365,000 less for community centers, special events and other city parks programs and $179,000 less to the outdoor events budget for the Raleigh Convention Center, which supports or organizes many downtown events such as Raleigh Wide Open.
Officials will hold budget hearings in towns across the Triangle next week, including Raleigh, Durham and Wake County.
"We have very high standard of quality and try to provide excellent customer service," Raleigh City Manager Russell Allen said. "We feel like we are very lean already. It is just very painful, and we tried to be very careful."
In Durham, officials discussed cuts Wednesday, including slashes to some recreation center hours, closing one neighborhood center and raising rates for after-school and summer camps. Officials are looking to scale back the annual July 4 event with the Durham Bulls or find a sponsor.
Apex canceled its Easter egg hunt.
In Cary, the town closed its community centers Sundays from April to October, except for special programs or rentals. Officials also shut a greenhouse at the senior center and will consider its support of special events on a case-by-case basis.
"There may be some small fees attached to some areas that might have been free," said Mary Henderson, Cary's parks, recreation and cultural resources director.
In Raleigh, Scott Payne, a Raleigh recreation superintendent, said officials eyed cuts that would have the least impact on residents. For instance, the hours cut at community centers were those that see the fewest visitors. The Shelley Lake boathouse, which is proposed to be closed, is open only from Friday afternoon through Sunday seasonally. The carousel at Chavis Park would be closed Monday through Thursday, when ridership is typically low.
The city's July 4 celebration at the N.C. State Fairgrounds won't include a collection of bouncy houses and other inflatable diversions and carnival games for kids. Instead, it will open two hours later at 4:30 p.m. and might include old school pursuits for kids, including sack races and a scavenger hunt. The school-age kids in the city's Summer X-Press Camps might take a nature hike at a city park instead of a field trip to King's Dominion.
"We have a lot of assets in our own system," Payne said.
Changes in Raleigh
Major Raleigh festivals will see some changes, including the St. Patrick's Day parade and festival, which typically draws about 20,000 people downtown. Doug Grissom, assistant convention center director, said the city spends between $13,000 to $22,000 a year on the event and makes about $5,000 to $10,000 in beer sales.
Grissom said the city needs to break even on outdoor events such as the parade. Frank Mellage, chairman of the volunteer group that organizes the parade, said reduced city funding will be most visible in the festival, which is held on Moore Square after the parade. In the past, the city has paid for bands, portable toilets, tables and chairs for vendors, and other expenses, he said.
"Literally every year we get warned about cuts that are going to happen and impact the parade and festival and usually when it comes down to crunch time, we're able to work around it and able to do everything," Mellage said. "I know the times now are different. I guess I'm crossing my fingers we can sort everything out."
Mellage said he would have to significantly scale back the festival if the city slashed its support.
"People come for the parade and the festival," he said. "If we downsized the festival, we'd lose a lot of the crowd."
The city also proposes reducing its participation in the annual Capital City Bike Fest, a downtown motorcycle festival in September, and nixing its Movies in the Market series in Moore Square, which drew as many as 1,000 people for an outdoor summer movie in past years.
Raleigh Wide Open, scheduled for Oct. 24 when the new downtown plaza opens, will be only one day instead of two. And the city plans to eliminate its floats in the annual Christmas Parade, though that will have little impact on the popular parade that stretches for nearly 2 1/2 hours, said Susan Thompson, director of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, which organizes the decades-old event.
"Our cash reserves are gone," said Roger Krupa, convention center director. "If the weather goes bad and we don't make money in the first half of the year, next time this year it will be pretty desolate."
Staff writer Jim Wise contributed to this report.
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