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With the city poised to slash the parks department budget, park maintenance continues to fall short, and Sacramento Press readers are asking if the city should just outsource park maintenance altogether, while union leaders think it’s a bad ide, and a city park comissioner says its been tried before without success.
“The obvious question here is what is the cost if all park maintenance staff are laid off, and the services (are) outsourced to a non-union private contractor?” asked “Cogmeyer,” a frequent Sacramento Press commenter.
Craig Powell, president of the local political watchdog group Eye on Sacramento, agreed, saying that outsourcing park maintenance “has to be on the table.”
Powell referred to the city’s move to contract out golf course maintenance services last year – for a projected annual savings to the city of $500,000.
“Outsourcing basic park maintenance will save many times that amount,” Powell said in his comment.
Marcia Mooney, a representative for SEIU Local 39, the labor union that represents the city’s park maintenance workers, said outsourcing would be bad for city employees because they would not likely be rehired and, if they were, it would be to lower-paying jobs.
When the city contracted out golf course maintenance, Mooney said, it resulted in a single contract with one large company. For park maintenance, however, multiple smaller companies would be bidding for multiple contracts with the city.
“With multiple small contracts, there’s really no room for negotiating for contracting companies to hire the laid-off city employees as there was with the one contract for golf maintenance,” she said.
Parks Commission Chair Jonathan Rewers also commented on whether contracting out park maintenance is a viable solution.
“We have tried to outsource park maintenance in the past,” he wrote in his comment. “The problem is when you use contractors, you don't get the response time you need to (respond to) community concerns. With crews on dispatch to 311 and our supervisors, we can deal with issues as they come up in our park system – which they do every day.”
Rewers told council members Tuesday that the commission reviewed the proposed parks budget and commissioners felt there were “no options left” with regard to revenue or reductions.
When Parks and Recreation Director Jim Combs outlined the proposed 2012-13 parks budget for the City Council Tuesday, he noted $1.1 million in cuts and the elimination of 19 staff positions. Of that, $119,000 and two positions affect park maintenance.
Outsourcing, or “contracting out,” public services is not uncommon in local government, but it brings opposition from labor unions representing city employees who will be laid off in the process.
Outsourcing golf course maintenance services last year came at a cost of 58 city employee positions and $229,000 to pay for unused sick leave, vacation and overtime – required lump-sum payouts whenever staffers leave city service.
As city revenues have declined over the past four years, volunteer efforts to maintain city parks have fluctuated in various neighborhoods.
One Sacramento Press commenter used New York City as an example and said that volunteers stepping in to care for public parks is nothing new.
“City parks belong to us, the people of Sacramento, and not to some independent and impersonal entity we call 'the city,’ “ wrote “JWS.” “Therefore, we have a responsibility to take care of our parks.”
Sacramento Press contributor Isaac Gonzalez commented that the Tahoe Park Neighborhood Association’s Park Beautification Program that he manages has been successful since it started in 2010.
“I know that Sacramentans are good citizens,” Gonzalez wrote in his comment. “At each event, dozens of people come out to help make sure Tahoe Park remains a safe and clean place for families to come together.”
In Land Park, where one of the oldest and largest city parks is located, the volunteer effort started strong when budget cuts first had an impact, according to Powell. But the effort has dwindled, and continued volunteer work seems tentative.
“In William Land Park, we have seen the park maintenance crew reduced from 19 full-time park workers in 2005 to just three workers today, all of whom are over 60 and nearing retirement,” Powell said. “Despite monthly park cleanups by 50 to 90 volunteers of the Land Park Volunteer Corps, we can barely hold back the tide of mounting neglect.”
Rewers suggested to council members Tuesday that they consider a recent poll gauging public support for a possible tax measure to raise revenue for park maintenance. The council will discuss the results of that poll May 22.
What do you think? Should outsourcing park maintenance be an option for the city before further budget reductions to the parks department? Or are there other solutions that haven’t been discussed yet?
Melissa Corker is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCorker.