The impact of staff cuts on the city of Moline's parks and recreation department is being noticed as fewer employees struggle to keep up with the city's numerous parks and recreational areas.
As a result, Moline city officials are asking parks and recreation staff to shift work priorities away from the city's sports complex, which is not in use, and focus on the well-traveled Ben Butterworth Parkway recreational path and the city's historic Riverside Cemetery.
During the June 9 committee of the whole meeting, Mayor Stephanie Acri showed several photos she had taken of neglected areas around the city, saying she has received numerous complaints from residents about the lack of maintenance.
Photos of Riverside Cemetery showed overgrown grass surrounding headstones, and photos of the bike path showed overgrown grass and weeds. Meanwhile, photos taken of Green Valley Sports Complex showed perfectly manicured ball fields, lawns and a well-maintained, freshly-painted parking lot, curbs and parking stops.
"What I have experienced was a continuous stream of complaints that worsened last week and there was discussion about how the complaints were being addressed," Acri said. "So I took a little tour of the city and this was from June 4. What was striking to me was the difference in the level of maintenance between the parks."
Acri called the condition of Riverside Cemetery "disturbing."
Alderman Sam Moyer, Ward 5, said he also was hearing complaints from residents.
"I think we gave direction to cut back on the mowing," Moyer said. "I go on Butterworth Parkway nearly every day and I've seen some things, but I assumed that's part of what we're dealing with."
Park Board President John Knaack said the number of parks department staff "is extremely small" compared to normal staffing levels.
"When we don't have seasonal (workers) to make efforts happen, (that is) where the issues come in," Knaack said.
Parks Recreation Director Eric Griffith said there are currently 11 full-time parks and rec staff — two fewer than normal. He said the ballpark parking stops and curbs were painted in the fall, not recently.
"We've gone around to every single park to see what areas we use the most and what areas we can let go," Griffith said. "We've tried to prioritize the highest-used parks of the city."
Griffith said this time of year, the city typically has up to 73 additional seasonal employees, eight of whom are assigned to the cemeteries and 25 to 40 assigned to Green Valley Sports Complex.
Knaack said those employees usually do the brunt of weed whacking and trim work.
Due to a projected budget shortfall of $10 million as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the city did not hire seasonal workers, leaving the parks department short by at least 70 employees. The remaining 11 full-time employees must try to maintain 21 parks, two cemeteries and numerous green spaces.
Finance Director Carol Barnes in April said the city currently has $11.7 million in reserves in the general fund.
Alderman David Parker, Ward 2, said he struggled to understand why Green Valley was so well-maintained when the facility is currently closed due to coronavirus restrictions.
"And Ben Butterworth Parkway is the front porch to our city and it looks like a vacant lot," Parker said. "I think it's embarrassing and I don't think there's any excuse for the way that's been maintained."
Acri asked Griffith to share what the prioritization was for which parks and recreational areas get mowed and trimmed, and which do not.
"We understand parks (department) has limited resources; we all are navigating (with) limited resources," Acri said. "It would help to have a clear understanding of the priorities so if we receive complaints, we can help them understand why a certain park is maybe at a lower priority."
Alderman Dick Potter, Ward 4, defended parks and rec staff.
"I'm sure the staff is working very diligently. The numbers are what the numbers are," Potter said. "We have much less staff; there's no way they're going to be able to keep up as compared to what a normal year is. I've had numerous conversations with patrons of the parks and I tell them it's a COVID year. We couldn't bring in the seasonal (workers). Maintenance is going to be down just a little bit and they're doing the very best that they can.
"The work around the (cemetery) headstones is very tedious. It's not like running a mower and getting it done quickly. My observation is that the crews out there working are doing the very best they can given the fact that the grass this time of year grows pretty fast."
Parker agreed with Potter, but added, "I think it's an issue with the direction they're given and the priority they're given on what to take care of. We've been talking for years how the riverfront is the highest priority on anything we do, and it looks horrible.
"It's not the people on the mowers, it's the people directing the people on the mowers."
Acri asked Griffith to provide a list of priorities to council members explaining how work would be prioritized in the city going forward.
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