Tuesday, March 23, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
When city Parks Director Bill Balfour took the job in
July 1997, there were 891 employees in the city Parks
and Recreation Department. As of March 1 this year,
there are 706.

‘No-nonsense’ parks
chief does more
with less cash

By Gordon Y.K. Pang


As president of Oahu Sugar Co. for some 25 years, Bill Balfour was forced to meet rising production costs amid stagnant sugar cane prices.

As city parks director, he deals with shrinking budgets and a dwindling number of employees while being asked to take on more parks.

Balfour says his employees have learned to work smarter and notes that they have received accolades over the past few years for being more responsive.

"To me, the beach is clean," said Thomas Teranishi, a retired financial consultant who has swam off Ala Moana Beach Park every day for close to 10 years. "Now we've got benches. Before it was worse."

Several people at Ala Moana Beach yesterday said that overall the park has looked better, the restrooms are still an irritation. "They smell and aren't very well kept," said Seth Carus, a professor visiting from Virginia.

Balfour acknowledges the comments and says repair and maintenance can be improved.

The administration of Mayor Jeremy Harris' is proposing a $34.4 million budget next year that has cuts in positions. The budget went from $35.6 million in fiscal 1998 to $34.2 million this year.

But the City Council has asked all agencies to come up with 2 percent cuts, and Balfour warns that any more slashes to his budget could have dire impacts.

While city police and fire budgets have increased, the parks budget has borne the brunt of budget cuts in recent years.

There were 891 employees in the city Parks and Recreation Department when he became director in July 1997. As of March 1 this year, the rolls have shrunk to 706.

A five-year view of the Parks Maintenance and Recreation Services Division, the core of the department, shows a similar trend.

The division had 577 employees on June 30, 1996. Today, it has 501, a 13 percent decrease.

Still, Balfour warns that his troops are being stretched too thin and that his "jury-rigging of bodies" and morale can only go so far.

"It's getting tougher," he said. "At some point, we're going to run out of warm bodies able to do the work. At some point, attitude can't cover for warm bodies."

Some 650 park acres have been added since he became director. An additional 500-plus acres will come on board in the next four months, most of it the result of the closure of Barbers Point Naval Air Station.

And within 18 months, the city will add 550-plus acres in Waipio and Waiola.

Without more personnel, "at some point, we're just going to have to land bank," Balfour said. "I don't know how we're going to continue to put up facilities."

He estimates he could use 20 to 25 more workers now, with at least an additional 30 to 40 more employees to care for the facilities he is scheduled to take over.

Despite fewer employees, Balfour is credited with improving morale, cracking down on slouchers and improving response time. While far from perfect, Balfour said, the department is now able to hold its own.

When he first took the job, "people cut the grass (at some city parks) when the spirit moved them and, I assure you, the spirit didn't move them very often."

City Council members like his attitude.

"There was a period when the Parks Department was a dumping ground for political favoritism," Council Budget Chairman John Henry Felix said. "I see that reversed."

Parks, Health and Community Services Director Rene Mansho agreed. "Bill Balfour is a very aggressive and no-nonsense manager. He just wants to get the job done."

When it comes to parks maintenance, Balfour has set three goals for all his facilities:

bullet The grass get cut at least once every two weeks.
bullet Comfort stations, formerly known as restrooms, get cleaned at least once daily, more in busy areas.
bullet Trash bins get cleared at least once a day, more in busy areas.

If that's not happening at your neighborhood park, he said, "my number's in the phone book."

Budget review

The City Council Budget Committee will review the fiscal year 1999-2000 operating budget for the Parks and Recreation:

bullet When: 2 p.m. tomorrow
bullet Where: Council committee room on the second floor of Honolulu Hale

E-mail to City Desk

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