The Brainerd City Council on Monday heard from a number of people hoping to save programs and positions on the chopping block in the parks and recreation department.
The council on March 16 directed the Parks and Recreation Board to make $42,200 in cuts. Parks Director Wayne Mooney recommended laying off six people - four maintenance workers, the recreation coordinator and the recreation specialist - for six months of the year, from Oct. 1-April 1; elimination or changes to several park programs and activities; and other budget items, which the park board approved March 29 in a 3-2 vote.
The city council Monday discussed sending a recommendation to the parks board; having council member Anne Nelson Fisher, the council liaison to the parks board, take the council's concerns to the board; and heard a motion that died for lack of a second that would increase the cuts in the parks department by about $3,800 while saving programs.
Ultimately, the council took no action because, under the city's charter, the city council only has authority to set the park department's budget and it's up to the park board to make adjustments to the budget.
"It doesn't seem like we're doing much because it does seem like we're ... hamstrung a little bit, but we're the ones who quite often get phone calls, get stopped on the street or stopped in the grocery store, or whatever," Cumberland said. "We've got input from the general public that perhaps someone who is on the park board who maybe isn't quite as visible, their names are not in the paper, or they don't necessarily know these people serve on the park board, they may not be getting that input. I think that's a real service that we can provide the park board by simply saying there are these concerns."
Brainerd resident Guy Green, whose son is a parks department employee, presented a proposal he created with some park department employees that would trim $46,096 from the 2010 parks budget. He said the plan was offered because no alternatives were presented to the park board on March 29.
Green's proposal included cutting Mooney's position, laying off two full-time maintenance employees for six months of the year, laying off recreation/office staff for a month and-a-half, eliminating temporary office and batting cage personnel and other cuts to expenses.
Council member Bob Olson made a motion to cut 2010 expenses by $46,096 without identifying where the money would be cut but his motion died for lack of a second.
Green said keeping the park director position while cutting 60 percent of his staff was not realistic. The overall cuts made by the city, he said, left out all director positions.
"Where do you think Brainerd happens? Do you think it happens in this room (at city hall)?" Green asked. "I don't think that's where Brainerd happens. Some of it happens here, yes, but the important part of where Brainerd happens is outside this building. It's in hearts of the people of the city and one of the important things to people of the city is their park department, especially in economic times where we're going to face ... structural change."
He asked for a council member to sell residents on the plan presented by Mooney but no one replied. He also accused City Administrator Dan Vogt of running the park board, which Vogt denied later in Monday's meeting.
Cumberland, based on a recommendation made by parks department recreation specialist Tony Sailer, proposed laying off the recreation coordinator from mid-September through December, the recreation specialist from Aug. 1 through mid-November, the park director from mid-December to March 31, reducing the hours of the administrative specialist to 36 hours a week and spreading out the layoffs to maintenance employees by using one or two part time during slower seasons.
Tom Hofius, Brainerd resident and business owner, also hoped the city would look at other proposals, including the park director's position. He said he's donated time and product to park programs but didn't want the decision to be based on emotion but economics.
"To me, a lot of the talk has been cut the fat, don't cut the muscle. Here we have a department that's going to be gutted," Hofius said. "It makes absolutely no sense that for portions of the year the amount of money we spend to administrate that department compared to what is being administered to, it doesn't make sense.
"When my business suffers and there's no money there, I make less money. I think government needs to take a lesson from business."
Resident Jeff Czeczok said the council should have analyzed its cuts more and looked at cutting in other areas, such as staff and council development; dues to lobbying groups of which the city is a member; and reducing department head, supervisor and council health insurance from fully paid to 80 percent paid.
Czeczok said people pay taxes for quality of life amenities such as those offered by the parks department, not benefits for staff and council members.
Pequot Lakes resident Sally Leek said cutting programs will stop people from coming to Brainerd. Parks employee Jim Schulz said it takes people to provide the services the residents want, such as flooding rinks. Dave Jones, a baseball umpire, said taking away programs will leave kids with nothing to do.
Council member Mary Koep said it wasn't true that the city would lose all programs and she believed the park director would have to take on a lot more tasks under the cuts. She said there needed to be better communication with the public. Mooney said that skating rinks at Gregory Park and Bane Park could be utilized instead of only using the Mill Avenue Park, as was proposed under the cut.
Council President Kevin Goedker said Park Board Chairman Marty Johnson had asked for the issue to be held because he was unable to attend Monday's council meeting. He said Johnson probably would want to address the council in the future.
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