Most of the Washington area's local park authorities, which spent much of the 1960s acquiring land during the boom years of suburban growth, are now buckling down to the new politics of fiscal restraint.
"The years of acquiring large chunks of land are behind us," said Dorothy Werner, Northern Virginia park spokesman. "We're adding on to what we have. There is now a feeling against increased land acquisition and in favor of developing the land that we have."
With stringent new 1984 fiscal year budgets approved or pending in suburban Maryland and Virginia, the park authorities that once were the aggressive protectors of green space against suburban growth are among the agencies hardest hit by cutbacks.
They are now busy paring administrative costs. They are looking for places to increase fees to make parks more self-supporting. And, this year, most park authorities are content with operating and maintaining existing parks, while slowing down ambitious plans for park expansion. Take these examples:
In Fairfax City, one of the six jurisdictions that fund the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, council members specificied that no Fairfax City funds be spent on additional land acquisition. Said Darrell Winslow, park authority director, "We're putting much more emphasis on development instead of acquisition."
In Prince George's County, budgets for all governmental agencies are held down because of a voter-backed tax limitation amendment called TRIM. "We're more or less status quo," said park commission spokesman Steve Davis. "The TRIM referendum really puts a bind on us."
In the District, most of the large parks are maintained by the National Park Service, including Rock Creek and Meridian Hill parks, and the parks in the circles such as Logan and Dupont. However, the city does maintain 126 small neighborhood parks and recreational facilities. The maintenance budget for the parks under the city's jurisdiction has been trimmed from roughly $5.5 million to about $5 million for the current fiscal year.
Only in Montgomery will the park commission continue all of its planned expansion under its new 1984 budget. "We did quite well on the parks side," said Park Director Stan Ernst. "We will probably be able to continue the same level of service and continue building about 14 parks."
"There's always been a philosophy in Montgomery County that land will never be cheaper," he said. "We have trimmed back on the dollars for acquisition, but we still have an active program."
But even in Montgomery, the park budget this year is less than park officials requested.
The County Council approved a $28.1 million budget for the bicounty Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission last week, $535,000 less than what the commission said it needed. Most of that cut--$362,000--will come from the park department.
The cuts mean one fewer park policeman will be hired, two fewer police motorcycles will be bought and $28,000 in overtime pay for regional park employes will be eliminated.
Also, park officials also will type their own budget and copy it on office machines next year instead of sending it out to a printer. "The information is still there," said Budget Manager Doug Shephard. "It just won't look as slick and won't have a two-color cover."
In Prince George's, the park and planning commission saw the council trim $450,000 from its administrative budget, eliminating two positions from the administrator's office.
The Montgomery and Prince George's councils will meet on May 19 to decide the size of the pay raise for their shared park and planning commission administrators. Montgomery has already approved a 3 percent raise.
In Prince George's, County Executive Parris N. Glendening added some money to the park and planning budget request to keep some popular programs. A surprise $3,000 increase, for instance, will allow the "Snakes 'n' Stuff" traveling reptile show to continue.
But in the parks department, most of the money will go to major maintenance, reflecting the move toward keeping up older facilities and away from new purchases and construction.
"Montgomery and Prince George's both showed rapid growth in the 1960s," said Shephard, "And the facilities are now reaching the point where they have to be maintained."