October 25, 2014

Arenac County parks staff slashed

Commissioners cite parks budget crunch

Posted

ARENAC COUNTY — Due to the parks and recreation department running out of money in its budget, the Arenac County Board of Commissioners voted to reduce the staff at Oasis Lake and Point Au Gres parks to two people total at their meeting Aug. 21.

The commissioners have budgeted the department $2,000 to get through the rest of the parks season, which concludes on Labor Day, and a week afterward to clean up and prepare the parks for winter.

“We just can’t justify spending more than we have on the parks, and we’ve said it to begin with,” Commissioner Chairman Bob Luce said. “Even though we’re only going over a little bit, it’s still going over from what we set.”

The vote came after an initial motion to lay off the parks staff immediately at the end of Aug. 21 failed 3-2. Commissioner Mike Snyder said that shutting down the parks for the year is more involved than simply sending everyone home.

Joe Sancimino, chairman of the parks board, explained that the staff needed to make sure equipment at the park did not get ruined over the winter by putting away picnic tables and winterizing cabins. He also pointed out that the parks have a few reservations in place over the next couple weeks, and he wanted to make sure staff would be on hand to help out it those people needed anything.

“(If we didn’t) have anyone manning the gates, then these people would come in and they wouldn’t find anyone to help them,” Sancimino said.

He said a week is usually enough time to get the parks ready for winter, but added that was with four people working, not two. A motion to give staff members two weeks to pack up equipment failed to get the support it needed. County Commissioner Rick Rockwell pointed out that parks board trustees, as well as county commissioners, have historically been willing to volunteer their time to help with park maintenance.

Sancimino said he did not like the parks board being singled out for going over budget by a few thousand dollars when the county’s budget is about $5 million. Luce agreed that the parks budget overrun was comparatively small, but insisted that the county could not continue to put money in every time the department went over.

“The board feels that we are still going to provide the public with an acceptable amount of leadership and guidance at the park,” Luce said. “We’re keeping a guy on for three weeks (at each park), it’s the light time of the season — we can make it.”

An idea by Sancimino to advertise the parks as off-season hunting grounds in hunting newsletters may end up being put on hold to the budgetary woes, though Commissioner Jeff Trombley said if the parks board makes enough money at the gate before the end of Labor Day weekend, they can do whatever they choose to.

Snyder believed the commissioners and the parks board would need to come up with some way to make a workable budget for next year’s park season.

“It’s a very sad end to a very wonderful area of this state,” Snyder said. “The ability to provide those facilities has been a real struggle — and continues to be — and it will take some pretty monumental changes in our processes, and perhaps that may even encompass going back to electorate to see if we can get help.”

Luce said the parks will still receive a budget next year, and noted in the event that the county could not afford staffing the gates, they would remain open for public use due to their status as public parks.

Sancimino had brought up the idea of opening the parks season in mid-June next year during a commissioner meeting last June, due to how slow that time of year is, as a way to save money in the parks budget.

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