City parks hampered by freeze

Temporary workers have been called on to help.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Joseph McRae has lost a bunch of workers from the city parks department recently. He can't replace them, however, because of a hiring freeze.
Even if the parks director could hire, he couldn't replace them all. His department -- like the rest in city hall -- must cut at least 5 percent from its 2002 budget because of Youngstown's tight finances.
Nonetheless, the calendar says spring and time to get parks into shape for the season. So, McRae is having to do things differently to spend less, yet get as much done as possible.
Bringing in temps
In his department's case, that means hiring a temporary agency to provide workers. So far, the arrangement is working well, he told the park commission Thursday.
The department can bring in the number of people it needs based on available work and the budget. The temporary staffers work hard and are doing a quality job, McRae said.
Using an agency avoids paying fringe benefits, helping the department keep spending in line, he said.
McRae said turnover isn't unusual, but he has seen more lately than usual. He lost three or four workers in the past two weeks, and five more over the past couple months.
Funding, or lack thereof, was central to another topic Thursday. This one, however, won't be resolved soon.
McRae talked about contracting for an architect or engineer who would work solely for the parks department.
Failed to seek grant
The talk came in the context of a grant the department failed to apply for because there was nobody available to make cost estimates.
The city passed on applying for federal funding that provides up to $1 million to rehabilitate seriously run-down urban recreation sites. There was a 60-day window to apply, but that wasn't enough time to find somebody to do the technical work, McRae said.
The department has had problems for years finishing capital projects for the same reason, he said. The department has about $1.2 million in project that need to be bid, but no professionals to do the technical work, he said.
Each year, another $300,000 to $400,000 in capital projects are planned but many sit and wait -- sometimes years -- for the paperwork to get done.
"There will always be something for that individual to do," he said.
McRae, however, made it clear that nothing will happen until the city's financial situation improves.

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