Mayors, Large Urban County Leaders Set Urban Parks As Top Priority
By Larry Jones
Urban parks was selected as the top priority for mayors and large urban county leaders attending a two-day meeting in Miami-Dade, Florida February 4-5. Knoxville Mayor and former Conference president Victor Ashe led a delegation of five mayors in a meeting with eleven representatives of the National Association of Counties Large Urban County Caucus (LUCC) to identify joint priorities for the two organizations. Following a staff briefing on a number of issues, mayors and county leaders agreed to seek additional federal support for urban parks and recreation areas for American families.
Commenting on the issue, Mayor Ashe said, "The greatest park is not the Yellowstone or other national parks but the park down the street where your kids play ball." Although the President's 2000 budget includes $1 billion for the Administration's "Land Legacy Initiative" mayors and county leaders alike were disappointed that only a mere $4 million was provided for the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) program. However, there is wide bipartisan support in Congress for numerous bills that would increase UPARR funding up to $150 million. Local leaders are optimistic that Congress and the President will agree on a significant increase for urban parks.
In addition to urban parks, brownfields, an illegal commission established under the Internet Tax Freedom Act, a new Regional Connections program and welfare-to-work were identified as issues that the Conference and NACo will continue to work on this year. Mayors and county leaders were glad the President's budget included an increase from $25 million to $50 million for brownfields redevelopment through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and $92 million for brownfields clean up through the Environmental Protection Agency.
A lot of discussion focused on state governments not spending their welfare-to-work funds in a timely manner while a huge number of welfare clients at the local level stand in need of job training and job placement assistance. The staffs of the two organizations will collaborate on what changes may be necessary to improve the flow of funds.
Mayors and county leaders were outraged that congressional leaders decided not to comply with the Internet Tax Freedom Act in appointing representatives to the Advisory Commission on Internet Commerce. Instead of appointing a balanced commission of 8 business and 8 state and local representatives, congressional leaders appointed 9 business, only 6 state and local and one private citizen. Conference Executive Director J. Thomas Cochran told the group that the Executive Committee adopted a resolution at the Winter meeting authorizing the staff to file a lawsuit challenging the authority of the commission if Congress fails to correct the imbalance on the commission. The NACo Board of Directors is expected to consider a similar resolution in Washington at its winter meeting in late February.
The group also agreed to support HUD's proposed Regional Connections program. This program would provide $50 million in competitive funds for states, consortia of local governments, businesses, non-profits, and community groups, working together, to pursue smart growth strategies across jurisdictional lines.
Updating the Metro Economies report was also identified as a priority as both mayors and county leaders agreed that the international economic rankings of metro areas prepared Standard and Poor's DRI was a major accomplishment last year. They gave examples of how this new information has given local elected leaders a powerful tool that can be used to demonstrate their economic leadership in the world market. The group also agreed to work together to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Community Development Block Grant program, which will be celebrated at different events throughout the year.