Aviary Faces Possible Closure
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Preliminary hearings for the city of Walla Walla’s 2013 budget have placed Pioneer Park’s Aviary in peril. In the face of a budget shortfall due to low tax revenues, city officials say that the aviary may have to go unless volunteers can obtain sufficient funding from private sources.
“Unfortunately [volunteers] have been unable to achieve sustainable funding and there is no path going forward right now,” said city council member Barbara Clark at a city council meeting on Nov. 14.
She added that the economic recession and its effect on the city’s financial situation has forced the council to triage. The proposed closure of the aviary is just one of many proposed measures to balance the budget. Others include the raising of cemetery and recreation program fees, changes to the fire and police department budgets and cutting back Walla Walla Public Library hours.
“This is not a cutback that’s going to leave children going to bed hungry, or put people’s health care and safety at risk,” said Clark of the aviary’s potential closure.
The aviary is currently funded out of the city’s general fund, receiving a part of the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget. City officials estimate that the aviary’s closure would save the city approximately $55,000 a year.
The aviary’s expenses primarily consist of staff salaries and money for maintaining its structures. According to Parks and Recreation officials and workers at the aviary, additional funds are needed for 2013 to renovate some of the aviary’s structures, which do not currently provide the birds adequate protection from outside predators.
If the aviary does close, it will still be funded for the first three months of the new year to allow time to relocate the birds.
As in past years during which the aviary was in danger of closure, community members concerned about the aviary’s removal are mobilizing to prevent it. At meetings at Pioneer Park on Tuesday, Nov. 7 and Friday, Nov. 16, a group of concerned citizens who call themselves the Friends of Pioneer Park Aviary made plans to solicit financial assistance from local businesses and other institutions, along with individual contributions.
“We needed to find a sustainable funding source, and that just hasn’t happened yet,” said city council member Shane Laib, a longtime organizer for the Friends of Pioneer Park Aviary.
“If we can show commitment to the council that we can pull this off, we can start moving forward,” he said.
Although the group hasn’t yet found the stable, long-term source of funding they need to ensure the aviary is protected for the future, Laib said he is optimistic about achieving that goal. He noted that the group includes members of all ages and backgrounds who seem to be prepared to organize in a short amount of time.
“This group is a little younger; it has more energy,” he said.
Among those rallying support from the community are Whitman professors Elyse Semerdjian and Jacqueline Woodfork, who decided to take action after hearing about the aviary’s potential closure.
“Elyse and I came up with the idea of doing a Facebook page and it took off from there,” said Woodfork. “It has generated some conversation.”
She noted that she was glad to be able to join forces with the aviary’s older supporters, some of whom have been working to protect the aviary since its founding in 1982.
“We’re happy to tap into the preexisting energy in this group, which has happened here,” she said.
A final hearing for the proposed budget will be held on Dec. 3 at City Hall. The city’s budget must be finalized by Dec. 31.