City seeks private entities to run recreation programs

By Harold Gwin

YOUNGSTOWN — Mayor Jay Williams says the city’s parks and playgrounds will be open this summer, but there is “a probability” the programs won’t operate as they have in the past.

The city is seeking ways to eliminate a $3 million to $3.5 million shortfall in its 2010 budget and finding a new way to fund the parks, and recreation programs could trim between $750,000 and $1 million from that deficit, Williams told a city council Park and Recreation Committee meeting Friday.

Youngstown is looking at doing that by putting out requests for proposals seeking private entities, preferably nonprofits, to run various operations, including Stambaugh Golf Course, municipal swimming pools and even playground day-camp programs, the mayor said. The city would retain ownership of all property and facilities, he said.

Bringing in outsiders to run facilities and programs will require some negotiation between the city and its unions because some union employees are laid off now. Under their current contract terms, they would have to be recalled before the city could bring someone else in, the mayor said.

City council members are concerned about what they’re hearing on the streets and reading in published reports about the possible closure of park and recreational facilities this summer because of budget woes.

“I don’t think we can afford to have our summer programs not active,” said Councilman Jamael Tito Brown, noting that the word on the street is that the decision already has been made.

“You cannot cut all of these programs; where will our young people go?” asked Councilwoman Carol Remedio-Righetti, D-4th.

“We agree. No one is desirous of cutting these programs,” Williams said, adding, “No final decisions have been made,” with the exception of cutting out the 21 and Over Basketball League that was to start last Sunday.

Councilman DeMaine Kitchen, D-2nd, asked if the members of the city park and recreation commission have been involved in the discussions about possible program cuts.

“No,” said Gerrald Fordham, a commission member, adding that he heard about it on the street and in The Vindicator.

Williams disagreed, saying the issue of funding problems has been ongoing for more than a year, and the park and recreation commission has been discussing the problem for some time.

Commission members weren’t aware of how the city’s overall deficit would affect recreation programs, said Jason Roller, another commission member.

The recreation programs aren’t designed to make money but are something the city offers as a way to enhance the quality of life of its residents, the mayor said.

The requests for proposals should be in hand within the next week or so, and the administration will have a 2010 draft budget to present to council Feb. 22. The 2010 budget must be finalized by March 31, he said.

The city has to be careful to make sure the private entities don’t increase the price of facilities such as the pools and golf course to the point where people can’t afford to make use of them, Williams said.

He thinks third parties, particularly nonprofits, could operate facilities for less than it costs the city, he said.

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