City News

Summer will be quieter in Salem – free park concerts, movies cut

Salemites won’t have the chance to gather in Riverfront Park this summer for free movies and concerts as they have in years past.

Leaders in the city’s Parks and Recreation Department decided to cut Movies in the Park, Kids Relays and First Friday concerts series to save $80,000 as the city faces a budget deficit. 

The programs drew thousands of people to local parks over the course of the summer.

City Manager Keith Stahley’s proposed budget cuts recreation services by $400,000, according to a summary shared this week with city employees. Those cuts would start in the new fiscal year, which begins in July.

The full budget will be publicly released Friday and isn’t final until it’s approved by the Salem City Council in June.

But that schedule made planning summer programming difficult, city spokeswoman Elizabeth Kennedy-Wong said.

“Given this timeline we cannot start the work of contracting, planning and event production with the uncertainty ahead of us,” she said.

Last summer, the city provided five Movies in the Park events, each drawing about 1,200 people to Riverfront Park. The cost was about $50,000. Kids Relays had 1,400 participants and cost $30,000. Kennedy-Wong said she didn’t have a cost for the First Friday concerts, which began in 2022 and drew 500 to 1,000 people per event.

The event costs included seasonal employees as well as supplies, Kennedy-Wong said.

Youth sports and neighborhood programs would be hit with cuts too, held at three locations this summer instead of four.

Those reductions come as Salem is seeing an increase in shootings and violence involving young people.

City leaders, Police Chief Trevor Womack, and officials with the Salem-Keizer School District have all said Salem needs more safe, free places where young people can spend time outside of school.

But the city faces a substantial budget deficit next year which will require millions in cuts to balance. The Salem-Keizer School District will also endure budget cuts, with hundreds of school employees to be laid off at the end of this school year.

City leaders say the cost of providing city services for years has grown faster than the property taxes Salem collects, because of limits on tax growth Oregon voters approved in the 1990s.

Salem also forgoes some tax revenue because the large amount of state-owned land in city limits is exempt from paying property taxes.

Federal Covid relief money helped plug the gap in recent years, but that money runs out this year.

The city will still put on a Fourth of July event with the Oregon State Fair and Expo Center at a cost of about $50,000. Some of that is funded by a hotel tax that the city has to use for events that generate tourism.

The city’s cuts won’t impact events in city parks which are put on by private organizations, including the Awesome 3000, the World Beat Festival and Salem Art Fair.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.