Woodlake prioritizes parks and rec in 23-24 budget

(Rigo Moran)

Next fiscal year’s budget allocates more funds to their growing parks and rec department that had been nonexistent before

WOODLAKE – As more grant money flows into the city’s budget, city staff and the council are looking to pump up their parks and recreation fund.

On Monday May 8, Woodlake City Council met regarding their draft budget for 2023-2024. Next year’s budget doesn’t have much in terms of change, but it will emphasize public safety as well as parks and recreation.

Next year’s general fund, the city’s largest discretionary fund and normally a bellwether for the health of the city, is typically used for the town’s greatest needs and priorities.  A large majority of the general fund already goes to the police and recreation, but city manager Ramon Lara explained how the Woodlake general fund is distributed.

“This coming year, we have a couple of big park grants that are going to pay for some big park improvements. That would make the general fund skewed from a percentage standpoint,” Lara said.

The draft budget’s emphasis on parks and recreation prioritized Woodlake’s downtown studio, Hillside Park and Antelope Creek Park. Lara explained that parks and recreation are relatively new to the city and are growing to demand more funding to run them.

“We didn’t have a parks and rec department in the past. So now we do things to the tax measure being passed. So you’ll see that a lot of our emphasis is on parks and rec and public safety,” Lara said.

The Woodlake parks and recreation department has partnered with FHCN, Zumba and local dance groups for dance activities at the community center for both youth and adults. The city now offers basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and as of 2023 flag football.

The draft budget also prioritizes park enhancements in 2023-2024. Hillside estate will have a 2-acre park constructed on the north side of the city in 2023 including arbors and playground equipment. Upgrades to Antelope Creek Park are still being designed and are expected to start in 2024.

The city used funds from Measure S (cannabis business tax) to purchase the 20 acres for Antelope Creek Park and will use $10 million they received from the state for construction of the park. The park will include playground and exercise equipment, arbors, tables, grills, drinking fountains, trail and dog park baseball, softball, soccer fields, BMX, skate park, basketball and volleyball courts.

“So about five years ago, we passed a sales tax measure. And when we went out to the public and said, ‘what are your priorities?’ the two priorities were approaching recreation and public safety,” Lara said.

According to their staff report, the money allocated towards public safety this year will cover officer-worn body cams, citywide camera system, 5 police vehicles on order, drug and alcohol informational resources and the partnership with the WUSD on drug detection K-9 Program.

The budget draft does include street maintenance funds and the local airport. However, major changes to the airport won’t be implemented until grant funding is available in the future. Overall the council is not making many changes to the budget.

“We’re very conservative with our budgets,” Lara said. “ It’s central, you’re not buying cars in Woodlake or anything like that. So there’s no big ups and downs. It’s pretty steady, and it looks to be that way for the near future,” Lara said.

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