By John Milardo
However this vote turned out last night, the biggest issue for me as retired Parks Superintendent for Middletown was the present and future ability to maintain ALL park fields, grounds, and facilities. I harped on it for many years while presenting information, budgets, plans and ideas to directors, the Parks & Recreation Commissioners, Common Councilor's, Mayor’s, and all the sports leagues.
It is nothing new for the public or politicians to hear that the department is terribly understaffed and underfunded. The City has a Parks crew who takes pride in their work, but is deflated because all they can do is “hit and run”. All the equipment needed to have great fields and facilities is currently in the department. The biggest component missing is a properly staffed maintenance crew to perform the work, and proper funding. Both of these key issues fall on the shoulders of the Mayor's and the Common Council members when they review and cut up budgets. When the Mayor or Common Council look for savings in budgets, one of the first places funding is removed or reduced by the Budget Analyst, has historically been in the Parks Division.
While viewing last nights meeting, the Council asked the Public Works director how many new employees he would require with the addition of 6 new natural grass fields. His answer to the question was 4. Even if that were true, if you need that amount to take care of 6 fields, then how can you take care of the existing 21 lacrosse/soccer, 23 baseball/softball, 2 football, 500,000 square feet of buildings, 700+ parks property with 400+ mowing and trimming acres, pool, lake, ponds, and so on - with the remaining 10 working employees?
The National Parks & Recreation Manpower Study report I used (until retiring in 2012) to illustrate what was needed to perform ALL aspects of work in the department was ignored. The data from this report, which was updated yearly, indicated the department required 33 maintenance employees and 2 additional supervisors with a superintendent. That does not include the proposed 6 additional fields. Every year the request was made, personnel and funding were either reduced or frozen. (We are talking decades)
The current Parks division's maintenance facility is small and outdated; they cannot house all their items and machinery in the building. Some equipment sits outside, and others are in a storage trailers or remote buildings. A lunch room so small the crew takes turns who sits to eat; no locker room, an outdated and out of code septic system, and a building in general disrepair. One must take everything under consideration for review and look at the entire picture if the City is truly going to improve the Parks system. It can't be done over a 10 year period - it needs to be fast tracked. The longer you wait, the faster the rest of the Parks system and infrastructure will deteriorate.
I for one would have liked to have seen an itemized $34 million dollar project plan, along with all the promises for the Parks division I heard last night. This should have been included as part of the information the Common Council members received regarding this bond issue. We do it for fiscal budgets, why wasn’t it done for this bond? If “that’s not how we’ve done it in the past”, is the answer – then change it!
For those who are longtime native Middletown residents, they know the prime for City parks was back in the 60's and very early 70's. This was prior to the first consolidation of the Parks Department with the Recreation Department. My belief is that a director of a single division with expertise, knowledge, management ability, and a true passion for the parks system is sorely missed. No disrespect to all past Parks & Recreation department Directors – government consolidated the departments for unproven monetary reasons.
The public has waited a long time for anything like this bond, and the promise to upgrade the Parks division to happen; it wouldn’t have hurt anything if they waited another few months to get it right! This bond provides poor to no planning, and an empty promise from some Common Council members to properly fund the Parks division. Nothing has been solved!