SCHENECTADY — Amid growing concerns about the deteriorating condition of the city's parks and city-owned vacant properties, the mayor has proposed boosting spending levels for their upkeep.
Mayor Gary McCarthy has requested $1.1 million for property management in his proposed 2020 budget — up roughly $241,000 over this year’s spending levels to reinstate the parks director position and a new Schenectady Neighborhood Assistance Program (SNAP) foreman to oversee park maintenance. SNAP crews clean up nuisance properties in the city. Some of the money will be used for city maintenance.
“We’ve invested millions in our parks, which are largely not being maintained at the level they probably should be,” said Councilman John Polimeni, who floated the idea of a centralized staff position earlier this summer.
City officials have acknowledged that the long-standing agreements the city once forged with outside groups to maintain athletic fields have fallen apart, and are no longer viable for maintaining park infrastructure for a city built for a significantly larger population.
But while volunteer groups are jostling to pick up the slack, they’re often competing for the same pot of grant funds, said Polimeni, who wants a more coordinated approach for mapping out how the fields will be utilized.
The city currently has nine full-time parks staff responsible for maintaining 28 parks as well as numerous traffic islands.
The number swells to an additional 10-12 seasonal employees during the summer.
Polimeni also wants the new director to find ways of generating revenue for the city, including through the use of Central Park’s A-Diamond, which is among the best in the region, he said.
“It’s money we need to keep property taxes in check,” he said.
Lawmakers struggled with the fields at Hillhurst Park in Bellevue earlier this spring and summer, and decided to rip out moldering infrastructure, including dugouts and a concession stand.
The City Council is also pondering strategies for the Michigan Avenue baseball field in the city's Mont Pleasant neighborhood.
Polimeni said the funding boost is partially a result of those discussions.
“We need to make sure the fields we have are maintained,” he said. “That’s a huge piece.”
City Council has until Nov. 1 to adopt a budget.
The city’s park conditions also factored in heavily at a candidates forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters at the Hon. Karen B. Johnson Schenectady County Public Library on Wednesday.
City Council President Ed Kosiur said the city often struggles to fill the SNAP positions that already exist and a higher living wage would attract more prospective applicants.
“We cannot fill these positions at $12 per hour,” Kosiur said. “That is why we have the monies in the budget, but again, they continually go unfilled.”
Councilman Vince Riggi said the city needs more manpower.
“We don’t need more bosses — we need more people to do the work,” Riggi said. “You should get your tax dollars worth. Right now, you are not, that I can promise you.”
Riggi previously said the number of parks staff should be increased to between 15 and 20.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo wondered if the boost in funds should instead be used to hire more staff.
Carmel Patrick, a Democratic candidate seeking one of four City Council seats up for re-election in November, said parks play a central role in revitalization efforts.
“Parks can help us revitalize the neighborhoods and help people think about maintaining their properties as they get prouder of what’s happening in their neighborhoods,” Patrick said.
Rima Cerrone, a Republican candidate, called for a study of city staffing levels.
“I think there needs to be a re-evaluation of employees and tasks,” she said. “Maybe we should shift some things around.”
In response to an audience question, candidates broadly agreed funds from sports betting at Rivers Casino & Resort should not be earmarked for park maintenance and should remain in the city’s general fund.