City Cans Workers, Could Trash Beach
Rockaway's beaches may soon look more like a landfill than an inviting sandy vision, because the city won't be hiring the workforce it usually does, and instead hopes a group of welfare recipients, convicts, and volunteers will materialize to clean the shores.
The city, looking to cut nearly $30 million from the Parks and Recreation Department's budget, forced the department to slash services and relinquish $17 million, according to a spokesperson for the department.
"The disintegration of a full-time maintenance staff has forced the (Parks) Department to rely on Parks Opportunity Program (POP), Work Experience Program (WEP), and seasonal workers. The elimination of these maintenance workers will remove the last remaining pillar of strength and support," according to the advocacy group New Yorkers For Parks (NYFP).
The New York daily papers have recently reported on lifeguard recruitment, quoting Parks sources that said some beach areas could be closed all season. the Parks is trying to hire enough lifeguards to open more beach this year than last year, but has not hit its target of 1,100. The department remains hopeful, because they expect returning college students and others will apply between now and the end of June, a spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, the Parks plan to use a ragtag group to keep the beaches clean has been largely ignored by the press, but local officials are speaking up.
When it comes to the POP and WEP workers, the reviews are mixed. "They're good programs," said City Councilman and Chairman of the City Council's Parks and Recreation Committee Joseph Addabbo, Jr.
"It's going to be devastating," said Jonathan Gaska District Manager of Community Board 14, who added that POP and WEP workers regularly fail to show up for work. "Their heart isn't always into it," Gaska said, adding that people directly employed in fixed positions for appropriate salaries are more productive, and can be held more accountable.
Addabbo said it's not time to give up hope that seasonal workers can be hired. At a recent meeting, he reminded other council members that they each have parks in their districts, and that neglected parks quickly lead to complaints from constituents. Ultimately though, he said, spending is at the mayor's discretion, so even if the council finds money, Bloomberg could spend it somewhere else.
Based on the city's past treatment of the Parks and Recreation Department, that is a legitimate concern. The department has been so badly cut, for so long, that "it's amazing they can get anything done," Gaska said.
According to NYFP, while the city experienced great economic growth over the last ten years, it continued to short change parks by decreasing their budget nearly 45 percent.