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Jacksonville wants parks coordinator to come from within

JACKSONVILLE — A new parks and recreation coordinator position will probably be filled by a current city employee as the town wrestles with a growing parks system.

The City Council is expected to deliberate on the proposed hiring process at its meeting Tuesday. The council already discussed the issue on March 4 and would need to approve an in-house promotion. Qualified city employees could apply for the post.

Money was set aside in the current budget to hire a parks and recreation director in the final months of the current fiscal year, but it turns out there is not enough money for an additional full-time hire.

"We'll do an in-house promotion. The person who's in the new position will get a salary increase," said Jeff Alvis, public works director, who would supervise the coordinator. "It's kind of a trial thing to see how a part-time person might work as a parks coordinator."

Duties would include coordination of maintenance, planning, construction and development of the city park system, said Alvis. It also includes hands-on work and recreational program development.

"We've added Forest Park and we're creating a master plan," he said. "Restoration of the Britt Gardens is still in discussion right now."

Alvis hopes to have a coordinator start in April. That would allow time for the individual to train for the position. The city also might add another utility worker in the coming fiscal year if the parks coordinator comes from within the public works department.

"I think there's so much to be done," said Councilman Dick Ames, who supports the plan. "We've got 18,000 feet of trails in Forest Park we are trying to develop, and they're talking about turning lower Britt into a park."

An employee already involved with the city who would have responsibility for the park system would be a good addition to staff, said Ames.

"We have voted to keep the Forest Park in place," said Ames. "We want to do preservation, maintenance and manage it. We just can't do it with volunteers."

Because volunteer groups such as the Boosters Club, Motorcycle Riders Association and Jacksonville Woodlands Association are expected to assist with parks development, the new position would help coordinate their efforts.

"Over the long run, what's likely going to happen is our crew will actually serve as monitors for private or nonprofit groups," said City Administrator Paul Wyntergreen. "Our guy will be the monitor or coordinator."

Parks, Recreation & Visitor Services committee members were briefed on the change to an in-house coordinator instead of a full-time director at their March 11 meeting, Wyntergreen said.

Council members expressed concerns on March 4 about the city's ability to fund the position long term. Five-year projections show the position is sustainable, said Wyntergreen.

Currently, public works has five employees who work on all jobs. The department would realign with parks, streets and water divisions if the proposal is adopted.

"Our department (currently) works as a whole, as a team," said Alvis. "We'd split up public works."

Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at tboom8929@charter.net.