Herbs Paint and Body
What city budget cuts really mean for our community
What the cuts mean to Lake Highlands
It's not really news, in the traditional sense, if it's been on our minds, in our hearts and on meeting agendas for months now.

You'd have to be trying hard to miss it anyway.

I'm talking about the city and the $30 million budget shortfall we're currently facing.

If there is news to report, according to a recent announcement from City Manager Mary Suhm, it's that the number is down from an estimated $100 million shortfall as first reported this spring.

District 10 Councilman Jerry Allen highlighted the issue in an article we ran a couple of months ago. You can read it here.

So while $70 million worth of fewer cuts certainly represents a silver lining of sorts, now begins the hardest work – the actual cuts.

This is where my earlier mention of "not really news" comes in.

It's long been known that our city services, our parks, our arts program, our libraries – they're all on the chopping block.

According to Joan Walne, vice chairman for the Dallas Park and Recreation Board and long-time Lake Highlands resident and volunteer, the hard work of mitigating those cuts has been going on for months.

But despite all the media attention, and the public discussion, apparently there are some who are just now absorbing it, and I guess you can't blame them really. We all put off the unpleasant as long as possible.

It's the assumption that her department, and our city leaders, are just now addressing the issue, however, that most troubles Walne.

"For people to insinuate that the city and our District 10 leaders are only just now talking about these issues is simply incorrect," said Walne late yesterday.

"Your city staff, including the park department, Office of Cultural Affairs, police and fire, and the libraries, have all been working on this for months now."

It was during our conversation that Walne cited recent misinformation that's been circulating about the closing of the Lake Highlands North Recreation Center.

Apparently bad news travels fast, and wrong news even faster.

"It's a testament to our community that people are so passionate, but certainly this is no surprise," said Walne in responding to email reports of the rec center closing its doors.

"But the truth of the matter is LH North is closing because it's scheduled to undergo an $800,000 renovation, which was approved by the voters in the 2006 bond election."

It's no secret that rec centers will be cutting hours and programming as part of the budget cuts, however.

So where exactly does that leave us after the renovation is complete? In a pretty good spot, according to Walne, when you consider the alternative.

"I'm concerned about LH North, of course," said Walne. "But I'm also concerned about the 3,000 kids in Dallas who will have no summer camp experience next year."

"I'm also ultimately concerned about the bigger picture."

Lake Highlands is blessed with vocal leadership, and our community has no problem putting its money where its mouth is. This is best evidenced in the work of the Lake Highlands Women's League, the Lake Highlands Junior Women's League, the Exchange Club of Lake Highlands, and many homeowners associations including Lake Highlands North and LHENA.

Due in large part to these groups and their efforts, the LH North Recreation Center and park will be better able to absorb some of the looming economic fallout.

"It's the public-private partnerships already at work in Lake Highlands that represent an important part of this story," said Walne. "We already know how to get it done here, but this struggle is so much bigger than just our community."

"These funding cuts are going to have a severe impact on our park and rec department, in addition to the arts and cultural groups that are going to be forced to shut their doors entirely."

So instead of setting more fires, Walne recommends we take up our fire extinguishers.

"What we need now more than ever are consistent, fact-based messages," she said. "Messages that work to inform, not incite, and to equip our already powerful Lake Highlands volunteer base."

"At this point we have to ask ourselves and our friends, 'what are we willing to do to be part of the solution?'"

For those interested in learning the facts, and stepping up to offer their time and volunteer commitments, a town hall budget meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 17th at 7:00 p.m.*

The agenda will focus on presentations related to the city's budget cuts, including an update from the parks department.

Bring your working gloves and your thinking caps, because rest assured your help is needed when it comes to the significant cuts our city services, arts organizations and libraries are all facing.

*Meeting location has yet to be confirmed. Organizers have slated the Lake Highlands Freshman Center. We'll let you know when that's confirmed.

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