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City risks shutdown of all park programs



Published: Fri, February 12, 2010 @ 12:09 a.m.

Youngstown would save about $1 million by cutting its recreation programs, a city official says.

By David Skolnick

YOUNGSTOWN — Though a final decision hasn’t been made, city officials are considering elimination of all park and recreation programs.

“It looks that way,” said Jason Whitehead, director of the park and recreation commission and the mayor’s chief of staff. “Because of the budget deficit, we won’t be able to fund programs.”

The city hasn’t finalized its 2010 budget, but officials are looking to reduce a projected $3.5 million deficit in the general fund.

If the city cut its park and recreation programs, all of which lose money, it would save about $1 million, Whitehead said.

The city wants to find companies to manage the Henry Stambaugh Golf Course, the North Side Pool and four baseball fields.

“If we don’t outsource those, we won’t open” any of them, Whitehead said.

But Mayor Jay Williams said no final decision has been made on any park and recreation programs — except cancellation of the 21 and Over Basketball League, which was to start playing last Sunday. He added discussions about cuts are very preliminary.

“We are looking at a number of different scenarios,” Williams said. “There are so many variables. No definitive decisions have been made.”

City council’s Park and Playgrounds Committee was to meet at noon today at city hall to discuss the programs.

Councilman Paul Drennen, D-5th and chairman of that committee, said: “Council will find out what [the administration] wants shut down. From what I hear, it’s everything.”

The 21 and Over Basketball League had been around for more than 20 years. The league had about 130 members.

“Some participants don’t understand why would the city remove a program that is targeted at an at-risk population,” said Eric D. Jones, the league’s commissioner.

“It gives young adults an alternative to drugs and crime. That’s not to say they will commit crimes without the league, but they were doing something positive. The people who can’t play basketball on Sunday afternoons aren’t just numbers. These are people who are at risk.”

The league is looking for private donations and wants to operate a scaled-back program this year, Jones said.

Williams said the adult league is “an important program,” but if the choice is between it and summer programs for children, the city would fund the latter.

“I have no doubt the people who run the [adult] league have the intelligence and ability to operate it on their own for a year,” the mayor said.

The city laid off eight part-time park and recreation workers, who earned between $7 and $9 an hour with no medical benefits, and one full-time employee, who made about $30,000 in annual base salary with benefits, in September to cut costs.

Under union contracts, the city would have to recall the full-time worker and then the eight part-timers before it can hire temporary summer help, Whitehead said. There isn’t money available to recall those workers, he said.

The city hires about 75 seasonal workers to run its park and recreation programs, including its eight-week summer day camp that gives Youngstown kids a place to go to play games and sports, eat breakfast and lunch, learn crafts, swim and go on field trips.

“It gives young people something constructive to do during the summer and gives them something positive to do,” Whitehead said. “Not having the program would have a very large negative quality-of-life impact. Some kids will have nothing to do. Not every kid is going to pick up a stone and throw it through a window. But there is a concern about kids being bored and getting into trouble.”

Jones, who is a former city summer program playground supervisor and park director, said the elimination of the program would be devastating.

“You want to occupy these kids’ time and their minds,” he said. “When you don’t do that, it’s hard to predict the outcome. There’s a lot of poverty. The breakfast and lunch served there were the only meals of the day for some of these kids. Taking away those programs is a bad idea. For some of these kids, it would be devastating.”

The city will do everything it can to keep the summer recreation programs, Williams said.

The city may try to find a different agency to run the program, he said. “I hope we can get other organizations to run the programs,” Drennen said. “It’s [important] to have them in organized activities rather than roam the city during the summer.”

The city should know by the end of the month if any outside agencies are interested in managing the golf course, the North Side Pool and its baseball fields, Whitehead said. Without outside agencies, those facilities won’t open, he said.

The city has operated the golf course for 87 years.

The city paid $1.28 million to build a new North Side Pool less than three years ago.

It’s unlikely that Borts Pool on the West Side will open this summer. That pool needs $50,000 to $100,000 worth of improvements before it could be used, Whitehead said.

Except for a few days, for private bookings, Borts wasn’t used last year.

skolnick@vindy.com


PARK PROGRAMS

Impact on deficit

Youngstown city officials are considering ways to cut an anticipated $3.5 million general fund shortfall for this year. Among the options are shutting down the city’s park and recreation operations. Here are 2009 revenues and costs of some key park and recreation programs.

POOL

Revenues: $9,466

Expenses: $91,669

Deficit: $82,203

HENRY STAMBAUGH GOLF COURSE

Revenues: $102,974

Expenses: $129,514

Deficit: $26,540

SUMMER DAY CAMP PROGRAM

Revenues: $0

Expenses: $38,712

Deficit: $38,712

Source: Youngstown Park and Recreation Commission


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