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Council pokes at recreation oddities in proposed budget

The city recreation director has been on the job for five months and is finding out the department is ripe for a review of cost trimmings before the final budget is adopted.

With a department-proposed budget of $298,000, Shawn Washington, director, guided by Joseph Pawlak, city fiscal and budget officer, went over the proposed spending plan with City Council and members-elect, all of whom listened with their red pens out ready to see where costs can be saved.

Plans are to add a few programs to the mix for children and families in 2020, but there may have to be means of finding savings in order to put money where it should provide the city the most for its tax dollars, according to the budget work session discussion.

Salaries for Washington and a part-time office assistance amounted to $54,000. Councilwoman Liz Miele asked whether that included the experienced assistant in the office and/or additional AmeriCorps contribution.

Under the department, Washington manages recreational programs, including two summer day camps, the community swimming pool, activities in the parks, field usage, pavilion rentals and special events such as the spring egg hunt, a food festival, Williamsport Welcomes the World, Joel Garrison Day, Halloween and Christmas activities.

The proposed budget also provides for a software package and maintenance fee and includes funds to maintain a summer concert series at the Brandon Park bandshell for the summer.

Washington’s plans are to provide at least two concerts per month from June through September.

The department maintains funds for special events in 2020 of $20,000 in expenditure allowance that is offset by $30,000 in budgeted revenue.

The proposed budget has funding for facility maintenance for inspections and minor improvements to recreation facilities and equipment.

Councilman-elect Jon Mackey, a Democrat who has been hand-picking various departments seeing what does and doesn’t seem to make sense to him, asked Washington if there was only $277 spent on advertising in 2019, “why he put in $5,000 for advertising next year.”

The plan is to create recreation readers or hand-outs for summer programs and if funding is available for winter programs in a smaller version, Pawlak said.

That’s when Councilman Don Noviello asked if these activities and programs could not be put on the city Website at no cost. Miele also said she did not believe print versions for the younger generation were the wisest means of city investment and time.

She noted most younger people are linked on Facebook and would get information from the city site or social media.

Councilwoman Gerry Fausnaught said the primary level of schools would be a place, if approved, to distribute flyers.

Councilwoman Bonnie Katz asked about Washington’s health care plans.

The previous department director took a family health care plan but Washington said he planned to take a waiver on city medical insurance.

Miele also noted how she was told the swimming pool had difficulty maintaining and finding available staff.

She surmised it might be related to the salaries and was informed by Pawlak that sometimes the weather is not consistent. It isn’t like a young adult finding work in a store where he or she is responsible for going to work five days a week because it is indoors. It may rain Thursday through Saturday, preventing pool employees from working, he noted.

Miele said the operation of the pool must continue and that the administration should seek a strategy in which to retain employees.

The pool also has difficulties finding seasonal help when the fall college and high school sports seasons arrive.

Katz said she would ideally like to see children summer programs expand to other parks than Brandon Park and Memorial Park.

Katz said she heard that revenue does not support the expansion of the programs and was discouraged by that information.

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