Play money

During tough fiscal times, arts and sports programs are often the first to get cut from municipal budgets. So it’s not a big surprise that the “culture and recreation” category, which accounted for 2.68 percent of all spending in the average Bay State community in fiscal 2000, had dwindled down to 2.08 percent in fiscal 2007. But, as the map below indicates, not all cities and towns have downgraded parks and libraries to the same degree. Spending is generally highest in affluent, retirement-heavy communities, and it’s lowest in poorer cities and towns with relatively youthful populations. One might think that the need for diversionary activities might be greatest in the latter category, but in the zero-sum game of budgeting, these programs don’t have much room to grow in places that spend far above the state average on police (as in the beach town of Salisbury), public works (snowy North Adams), and schools (Lawrence).

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Some towns have unique recreation expenses — Brewster spent $1.1 million on its Golf Department in 2007 — but “culture” money mostly goes toward libraries, which have been downscaled across the state. According to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, eight of the 10 towns that spent the most per capita on libraries in 2007 — led by Chilmark, on Martha’s Vineyard, at $206 — were on the Cape and Islands. All 10 of the towns that claimed the most library visits per capita were in this same region. At the same time, Lynn’s libraries reported the most “visits per hour open” (160), with Worcester and Springfield not far behind, suggesting that those lower-income cities have the most pent-up demand for library services.

Looking at actual dollars spent, rather than the share of all spending, Chilmark spent the most per capita on culture and recreation in fiscal 2007, with $507 per resident. Among communities of at least 30,000, the top spenders were Andover ($136), Cambridge ($130), and Newton ($106). Larger municipalities near the bottom of the list included Chelsea ($10), Revere ($14), and Lynn ($17).