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February 5, 2009

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The Chestnut Hill Local
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Park advocates mobilize to maintain budget

As the city prepares for a second round of budget cuts — another $1 billion must disappear between 2010 and 2015 — Fairmount Park advocates are gearing up to defend the park system’s utility and necessity.

The park system has suffered from flat budgetary growth since the 1970s, according to Maura McCarthy, executive director of Friends of the Wissahickon, who believes that a substantial budget cut could be devastating.

“Of course we need to cut the budget, probably across all sectors, but if we could do something as minimal as reducing the Fairmount Park budget cuts from 30 percent to 10 percent, that at least gives us something to recover with, ” McCarthy said last week in a phone interview. “A 30 percent cut will be like removing a limb. I’m not really sure how the park system’s going to recover from that.”

McCarthy is concerned that further budget cuts to the park system would adversely affect the quality of life in Philadelphia for those who work for the park system and for those who use it.

“Every single person lost would have an impact on the park itself,” she said.

Less maintenance would likely attract “negative behavior,” she said, which, in turn, would alienate the park’s traditional visitors.

Because Philadelphians often cite the park system as one of their reasons for living in the city, McCarthy is afraid that residents would leave for greener pastures over time if Fairmount Park were neglected. And that, she said, could erode the city’s tax base.

McCarthy is urging park lovers in the Northwest to speak up at a community forum on budgets cuts at the Master Charter School, 5700 Germantown Ave., on Wednesday, Feb. 18, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

The Mayor’s Office has agreed to consider comments made at the Germantown forum, among three others being hosted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Project for Civic Engagement, before preparing the next budget.

Fairmount Park Executive Director Mark Focht said that his office last week submitted budgets for 10-, 20- and 30-percent cut scenarios, but he was not permitted to disclose those reports because the Mayor’s Office will be making them available at the public forums.

The Mayor’s Office did not return a call for comment by deadline.

 

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