Y’town park and rec system needs a top-to-bottom review

The recently publicized evalu- ation of Youngstown government by The PFM Group should serve as a guide for the city’s park commission, which is talking about developing a master plan for its 45 properties.

What the commission should keep in mind as it proceeds with hiring a consultant is what we said in an editorial that summed up the findings of the PFM study: There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — and, in fact, there isn’t much of a rainbow.

Given that the park and recreation department is not self-supporting, whatever decisions are made must occur within the context of the city’s overall fiscal health.

In assessing the city’s future, David Eichenthal, director of management and budget consulting for PFM, revealed there will be a $5.5 million operating budget deficit by the end of 2013 if the status quo prevails. In five years, the city would face a $28 million deficit.

Mayor Charles Sammarone, who sought the study, will not permit business-as-usual. He already is implementing changes in the workplace, which is a reality check for some city employees.

This year, the park department has been budgeted $1.92 million out of the city’s general fund, and $250,000 from the Community Development Agency.

In 2011, the city funneled $2.13 million to the department from the general fund; in 2010, $1.99 million; 2009, $1.87 million; 2008, $2.44 million; and in 2007, $2.28 million.

CDA’s appropriation remains constant each year.

The city of Youngstown is facing an uncertain future, which is why the park commission should approach the development of its master plan with the goal of right-sizing.

What does that mean? The population is aging and declining; the 2.75 percent income tax is largely paid by non-residents working in Youngstown; the housing stock is declining, thereby contributing to the deterioration of inner city neighborhoods; the crime problem seems intractable. And, parents with school-age children who can leave the city and its academically challenged school system are doing so.

What will Youngstown of the future look like? The answer can be found in the highly publicized development blueprint called “Youngstown 2010,” which was adopted by city government several years ago.

The goal then and now is to effectively shrink the city to a manageable size.

Just as there are streets with only a few homes on them that must be maintained, there are rarely used parks that demand care.

Community’s needs

The park commission has the responsibility to match the population of the city with the recreational needs of the residents, especially the children.

There already is an example of how down-sizing can work. Youngstown, which once had six public swimming pools, today has one.

Every department must recognize that clinging to the old ways of doing things will not sit well with the taxpayers. Change is inevitable — especially in a city that is stagnant, at best.

To be sure, recreation is an important component of any community’s quality of life, but 45 properties are too many for the park department to support.

A priority list must be established — with input from residents, educators, churches and community and business leaders.

Don't Miss a Story

Sign up for our newsletter to receive daily news directly in your inbox.