After a year of reduced programming in its winter recreation program, the city of Dunkirk will be returning to a more ambitious program for 2014.
The city has again leased the Agricultural and Markets Building at the County Fairgrounds for January, February and March and will hire six part-timers to help run the recreational programming. While Common Council approved the lease by resolution at its Nov. 19 meeting, not all members are onboard with the hiring.
Councilwoman Stacy Szukala used her report time to question Mayor Anthony J. Dolce about the hirings, which she said were announced at council's Economic Development committee meeting Monday.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
Mayor Anthony J. Dolce defended his decision to hire six part-time employees to help run the city’s winter rec program at the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds after Councilwoman Stacy Szukala questioned the hiring during Tuesday’s Common Council meeting.
"Before I go any further with my thoughts and comments I would like to have you explain as much as possible," she told Dolce.
Dolce said the reason for the six part-timers is an effort to run more programs after a down year in 2013.
"In the past there's been soccer, softball, baseball, adult soccer, floor hockey, walking, birthday parties, play dates, you name it. Last year, we scaled back a lot. However, this year we're going to be full systems go," Dolce explained. "There's an opportunity to collect revenue from programs we have and in turn, provide more programs, which really is what it's all about. Youth and adult, they really enjoy those rec programs and in order to do that we need to have a few more people available to work at the rec center. We're looking for six part-timers. I think we have it at approximately 20 hours per week for each."
Szukala wanted to know if it was budgeted and what line it was coming from.
"Of course," Dolce replied, "that would be the rec budget."
"So six new part-time hires were part of what we discussed because I don't recall those," Szukala continued. "We met with both you a few times, as well as the newly appointed rec coordinator, and I don't remember ever being told that we were doing six new hires for youth and recreation."
Dolce said if all goes well the city would look to rent the site for four months.
"So the personnel lines we approved for 2014 at the last council meeting did reflect the money for six new hires?" Szukala asked.
"Yes, part-time, 20 hours a week approximately, definitely," Dolce replied.
Szukala was not done on the subject.
"I'd just like to say for myself, although I feel that youth programs we could use more, I think the staffing issues we have in other places around the city are much more important than what we're proposing right now," she stated. "Then again, that is just my opinion. We have staffing issues at the water plant, wastewater plant, and we're often reminded by DPW (Director Tony) Gugino that because of the staffing issues in streets and parks some things we ask them to do can't get done. We can sit and discuss overtime, I think that's a whole other situation and discussion.
"But for me, I just think I'd like to see the money we put aside for six new hires have been done somewhere else throughout the city that is reflective of more of the people of the community than just a small portion of people that use the rec programs."
Dolce said he failed to see the correlation as the rec program brings in revenue to the city.
"We're talking six part-timers at 20 hours a week, you're talking full-timers at water and wastewater, which, I think Tony will tell you, we have addressed with trainees. So we do have trainees on board in those areas," the mayor added.
"For me I would have preferred to see us spend the money elsewhere at this time so I was not in agreement when I found out that you were hiring six part-time people. I don't know that anyone knew that was happening," Szukala concluded.
Gugino chimed in to back up Dolce on the hiring at the water and wastewater treatment plants, but Szukala countered that during council's trips to the two plants overtime is constantly being discussed, including how to eliminate it.
"I think what the general public wants to know is that we're doing the best with their dollar," she added.
Gugino explained the training involved with the new hires and said it would be one to four years, depending on prior education of trainees, before they can take certification tests. He also said the city is in good shape when it comes to the overtime line in the treatment plants.
After the meeting Dolce was asked about the issue raised by Szukala.
""I guess I'm having some difficulty making the correlation to her talking about full-time union salaried employees and some college-age individuals who will be helping us run programming. We can't provide the programming the public wants unless we have some part-timers working and manning the facility," he replied. "No one's there unless there's an event going on, and if there's an event going on that means the city is collecting revenue."
Dolce added the city's expense to use the facility, $200 per month to rent plus the basic utilities, was "very reasonable."
"What we found last year was when I really limited the events was the demand was still there," he continued. "People want these events and in order to do it you need to have a few more kids being able to work and keep the lights on. ... The public wants to be able to use the facility and exercise indoors in the wintertime and we put on great events for youth and adults. It works out real nice."
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