Dozens of Lawrence Community Members Ask City Commission to Save Prairie Park Nature Center – The Lawrence Times

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Post updated at 1:10 a.m. Wednesday July 13:

Zoë Leos, in her second year as a camp counselor at the Prairie Park Nature Center, got emotional as she asked the Town of Lawrence commissioners not to shift their budget concerns onto the kids who come to camp. .

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They’re already excited to have more blackberries to eat on next year’s Wild Edible Hike, and another chance to catch a fish if they didn’t make it this year.

“We didn’t know there wouldn’t be next year until last Thursday. I lied to those kids,” she said. “The kids want a next year in Prairie Park.”

The commission heard from more than five dozen community members in a preliminary discussion of the city’s proposed budget Tuesday night. Most came to speak in person at City Hall, and about two-thirds lobbied for the commission to keep the Prairie Park Nature Center open. The proposal calls for the center to be closed to save the city $337,000 annually against the $436.78 million expenditure budget.

A passion for the nature center also encouraged a young Lawrence resident to stand up in front of the crowd and speak to the commission.

“Please don’t close the Prairie Park Nature Center. We need it. We love it,” the boy said. “…How could we do the things we want to do when we don’t have anything lovely in sight?” I don’t understand.

His mother said the boy suffered from severe generalized anxiety disorder and was “on the spectrum”.

“He’s been waiting this whole meeting so he can stand up and give you his comments, which impresses me and I hope it impresses you all. But it was one of the few places we could take him. He didn’t make the crowd. He loves animals. … This is his home.

About a dozen others spoke about the Lawrence Humane Society. His staff members were “extremely disappointed” to see the city’s proposal to cut their funding by about 27%, or $100,000. Some staff and volunteers shared their experiences, what the Humane Society has meant to them, and the services they have been able to provide to the community.

A member of staff shared an example of unfortunately having to pick up a dog that was hit by a car and didn’t survive – but staff were able to at least find out who the owners of the dog were, let them know what happened. had passed and delivered their pet’s ashes. In happier cases, injured animals can be rescued and taken to emergency clinics.

“I don’t know if people realize that we provide 24/7 services. … And while a $100,000 budget cut to the Humane Society wouldn’t shut us down, it could cause us to cut services like that to the people of Lawrence.

Several other community members spoke about sustainability issues and raised concerns about the police department’s budget. After nearly three hours of public comment, the discussion returned to city leaders.

Commissioner Brad Finkeldei said he doesn’t think the city should scrap the nature center.

“I think it’s a convenience that we need to keep,” he said. “The obvious question, then, is how do you pay for this?”

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Finance director Jeremy Willmoth said the nature center was more than 80 per cent subsidized – but the centre’s free programming for families was one of the main points community members made to the commission.

“Prairie Park Nature Center is one of the reasons I fell in love with Lawrence and continue to stay here,” one public commenter said. “It’s one of the few attractions in town for families with children, as several other reviewers have said, and it’s one of the few places accessible to low-income residents.”

The nature center’s score on the city’s strategic plan framework puts it “among the programs least aligned with the city’s strategic plan,” says City Manager Craig Owens’ budget proposal.

Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said five other programs, totaling $8 million, scored lower than Prairie Park in that same setting: Court Services, Office of the Chief of Police , professional policing standards, the golf course and school crossing guards. She asked staff to take a closer look at these items before future budget discussions.

Owens responded that “reducing accountability services for policing is not the direction of a lot of the conversations we’ve had, and so I can give you the answer to that one right now.” But he said staff can look at those elements and see if there are cuts to be made in certain areas rather than eliminating them altogether.

Some proposed new revenue streams included in the budget are increased fees for parks and recreation, with the goal of reaching $1.2 million.

“It has not yet been identified the exact revenues that would increase; more work will be done on that. It was more of a revenue goal and then the goal is better cost recovery for all of our park programs,” Willmoth said.

Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical also offered false alarm fees, primarily for companies and alarm systems “that in 2021 sent us 1,500 false alarm calls,” Willmoth said.

Another cut would be flowers around town. Some locations might use perennials or native plans, so they wouldn’t be as flashy as annuals, but would require less maintenance. “Upscale” areas like South Park and Downtown would keep the flowers. Parks and Rec estimated this could save about $65,000 per year.

“I think we’re on the right track with this budget,” Larsen said. “…Funding issues, obviously, are always tough discussions, and that’s why we have this here and why we have the community coming in to talk.”

The commission will then meet at 5:45 p.m. on Tuesday, July 19. The meeting agenda will be posted at this link. View the full budget proposal, plus hundreds of pages of written public commentary, on this link.

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), contributor to the Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He graduated from Lawrence High School where he was editor of the school newspaper, The Budget, and was named Kansas High School’s 2022 Journalist of the Year. Read more about this work for The Times here.

Mackenzie Clark (her), journalist/founder of the Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com or 785-422-6363. Read more about his work for The Times here. Check out his staff biography here.

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