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As Wilton Manors begins to roll out a new budget each city department comes under a magnifying glass.

The city is proposing a $40 million budget for the fiscal year 2021-22. The budget gets a first public hearing Sept. 13.

One department getting a lot of attention of late is leisure services. With responsibilities ranging from parks and recreation to library services to childcare, the department has a lot on its plate.  During a summer budget workshop, commissioners eliminated a $33,000 proposed parks master plan. Vice Mayor Paul Rolli asked Leisure Services Director Patrick Cann to collect usage data from the department’s programs, facilities and parks.

“My question is: How are we going to deal with this going forward and the answer is not a parks' master plan,” Rolli told Cann. “Right now we’re looking to put the budget on track to get us in a future direction. I’m not going to go down the same road we’ve been down for the last 10 years with any of the departments. We have to change our mindset here.”

Leisure Services has 59 employees on staff, 21 full-time and 38 part-time. The department’s proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021-22 is $3,863,405. The budget has increased 4% in 15 years. Cann is going to bat for his staff, telling the Gazette all positions are being utilized properly.

“Yes, based on the rapid growth of doubling in the number of programs, services and amenities over a 10-year period, the positions have been utilized efficiently,” Cann said. “Also, with the diverse and complex responsibilities including many public works functions with a lot of attention on the cleanliness of the city, especially on Wilton Drive, the Arts and Entertainment District, and at Bus Shelters. With more program support for special events and programming activities, the Leisure Services Department takes on and resolves many community challenges. Especially during emergency conditions such as storms, and more recently COVID-19 — setting up parks and revising the operating policies to ensure public safety while meeting community needs, the Leisure Services Team adapts extremely well to changes.”

Cann has been out front at commission meetings of late pitching potential land acquisitions. The projects include expanding Colohatchee Park, buying the Kiwanis Club and taking Site 92, a waterfront bird sanctuary, off Broward County’s hands.

Commissioner Mike Bracchi wants the city to consider reducing the required acreage of park space in its comprehensive plan. Currently, Wilton Manors requires 4.25 acres of park space per person. The county standard is 3.0 acres per person.

“I would like to take another look at that,” Bracchi said. “Twenty years ago everything was much different then, nothing was built out. There’s limited opportunity for park space. I think we need to optimize the parks that we have. The playground is still not fixed. We don’t have turf for the dog parks. I think there’s a lot of ways we can spend money to optimize our parks to the fullest rather than trying to add park space that we don’t have the money to do.”

The debate over leisures services has several angles with Mayor Scott Newton pushing pickleball, Commissioner Chris Caputo advocating for more dog parks, Commissioner Gary Resnick asking for clay tennis courts and seemingly universal frustrations over the children’s playground at Hagen Park, which commissioners have dubbed the “tot lot,” that has fallen into disrepair.

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