Shrinking parks department is new reality in Youngstown

With a population of approxi- mately 65,000, and dropping, a stagnant income-tax base, and a projected general fund shortfall of $25 million in five years, the city of Youngstown is being forced to face the reality of shrinkage. That will necessitate reorganizing government to reduce operational costs.

And, with such reorganization will come a change in the way residents receive public services. A smaller city in terms of population must mean a smaller geographic area and a reduced public payroll.

It is no surprise, therefore, that an assessment of the Youngstown Parks Department calls for transferring ownership of 12 public properties to various entities and for closing another six.

The assessment was conducted by Youngstown State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies and comes in the midst of a top-to-bottom review of the department by Mayor Charles Sammarone and city council.

Indeed, the mayor and lawmakers, as well as the relatively new parks director, Robert Burke, want residents to approve a charter amendment that could be on November’s general election ballot that would bring about a reorganization of the department.

If approved, the parks commission would be disbanded, and the department would fall under the control of the mayor. The parks director would answer to the city’s chief executive.

The change makes sense because the priorities of the city of Youngstown have changed. The parks department has operated with $3.1 million from the general fund and $250,000 from the Youngstown Community Development Agency. In addition, the new North Side swimming pool was built with $1.28 million from the city’s treasury.

In other words, the department is not self- sufficient, which means there’s no justification for having an independent commission that sets policy.

Parks Director Burke sees advantage in having his office fall under the control of the mayor — and so do we.

In the next several years, the mayor (whoever emerges victorious in the November general election) and council will have to evaluate the parks department within the context of the money being allocated from the general fund.

The YSU urban studies assessment of the 30 properties, including the North Side Swimming Pool and the Henry Stambaugh Golf Course, has given the mayor and council a foundation for determining what parks and other recreation facilities the city can afford to maintain.

Comprehensive plan

Although the park and recreation commission wants to talk to companies about developing a comprehensive plan for the city’s park system, we would suggest it would be premature to proceed with the plan given that city voters could be deciding the fate of the commission in the November general election.

Sammarone, who will be leaving office at the end of the year, has spent the past couple of years since becoming mayor exploring ways of making city government more efficient. He chose not to seek a full four-year term, but instead is on the ballot with the hope of returning to the council president position he held before becoming mayor.

Sammarone succeeded Mayor Jay Williams, who resigned to join the Obama administration.

If he is elected president of council, Sammarone will still be able to help guide the city through this period of change.

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