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MailTribune.com
  • Jacksonville looks at needs, roles of volunteers

    City may scale back enforcement abilities of park rangers, will help other groups with insurance costs
  • JACKSONVILLE — The City Council tabled a decision Tuesday on its volunteer park ranger program and agreed to help other volunteer groups cover accident insurance costs.
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  • JACKSONVILLE — The City Council tabled a decision Tuesday on its volunteer park ranger program and agreed to help other volunteer groups cover accident insurance costs.
    The city has been advised by its insurer to discontinue workers' compensation coverage for the groups.
    The enforcement role of the park rangers had been called into question as the city reviewed its relationship with volunteers.
    Since 2008, volunteer park rangers have primarily patrolled Forest Park, located a mile west of city limits. The rangers are sworn officers who can issue citations, although they have not done that.
    "We've been the eyes and ears of the park. We let people know there is a presence up there," said ranger Gary Sprague.
    Police Chief David Towe said the rangers do not have extensive training in issuing citations.
    "It really needs to be left to professionals," said Towe. "The rangers are more of a liaison between the city and visitors."
    Towe said a lack of good communication in the lower levels of the park could hinder response in a confrontational situation. Rangers have cellphones that work only in the higher elevations of the 900-acre park, and adequate car radios would cost $4,000 each.
    Squad cars occasionally patrol the Forest Park area when staffing allows, said Towe.
    Park ranger Tony Hess said he would like to retain enforcement ability. But he said the rangers had been trained by Towe to back off in any potentially dangerous situation.
    "I'm not completely sure I have my arms around this yet," said Councilman David Jesser, who made the motion to table discussion until June 17 to give city officials time to develop a ranger proposal without enforcement capabilities.
    Citycounty Insurance Service, a statewide organization that insures local governments, had advised the city it needed to discontinue workers' compensation coverage for volunteers unless they met several criteria.
    Increased claims statewide by volunteers had prompted the requirement, City Administrator Jeff Alvis said before the meeting. Workers' compensation provides payment for time lost, medical expenses and loss of wages.
    Among requirements are that volunteers be supervised by a city employee, have a job description, log hours, have OSHA training and sign a waiver. Fire department and Community Emergency Response Team volunteers meet those criteria and will continue to be covered under workers' compensation.
    Groups such as the Jacksonville Boosters, Friends of the Jacksonville Cemetery, Historic Jacksonville, Inc., Jacksonville Woodlands Association and others provide hours of service ranging from restoration of the Britt Gardens to tours and programs at city-owned historic structures. The groups have been covered by workers' compensation.
    The Council voted to reimburse groups that have 1,000 hours of documented volunteer service per year up to $300 to help with insurance costs.
    Kristin Wick of Hart Insurance, the city's agent for workers' compensation, advised the council that groups can purchase accident insurance for $300 annually to cover 100 volunteers through another company. The purchased insurance would be secondary to any other insurance held by an injured party and would pay up to $100,000 per occurrence.
    Most of the groups document their hours and would meet the criteria for city assistance, said City Recorder Jan Garcia.
    The Council approved paying workers' compensation for brothers Dirk and Lee Siedlecki with the Friends of the Jacksonville Cemetery. The brothers work alongside city employees using a hoist to restore markers in the cemetery and both have specialized training in restoration.
    "We're a little town ... but we've got a huge volunteer effort going on all the time," said Alvis.
    Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.
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