By Kevin Aldridge
Enquirer staff writer
Cincinnati Park Board officials said Monday that they might lose their entire seasonal staff next year if the city's grim financial forecast doesn't improve.
The park board laid off 29 seasonal workers on Aug. 27 in an effort to reduce spending and help the city meet a $7.8 million general fund budget shortfall this year. The workers were let go a full two months ahead of schedule.
With the city facing a projected $11.5 million deficit in 2005, park board officials said the outlook for city parks doesn't appear any brighter. The Parks Department typically budgets for about 40 seasonal workers. Those workers are part-time employees and do not receive benefits.
"The parks are really one of Cincinnati's jewels, but it makes it difficult to maintain when you're cut to the bone, " said Howard Bond, vice president of the Park Board. "We are at a point now where we're cutting too deep."
City Manager Valerie Lemmie had asked five city departments in danger of overspending to abide by their council-approved budgets for the year. The departments - fire, police, parks, recreation and public services - were said to be on track to exceed their budgets by more than $4.2 million combined.
The Parks Department cut spending by $215,991 through layoffs, the closing of 34 restrooms and reduced mowing and litter pick-up cycles.
"We're just trying to be a team player," said Willie Carden Jr., parks director.
Cincinnati has more than 100 parks and greenspace on more than 5,000 acres. The park board has seen its full-time and seasonal staff dwindle from 350 people in the mid-1980s to 130.
Carden said the city's parks have been well maintained despite the loss of workers. More than 1,000 volunteers - including a group of homeless people in Over-the-Rhine - are helping pick up litter and a three-week dry spell has kept grass and weeds in check, Carden said.
Full-time staffers even cruise the parks during their free time, picking up trash and tending to other maintenance needs.
"Even though I've tried to put a stop to it, people do things behind my back and it kind of makes you go, 'Wow!'" Carden said. "There are a lot of people out there who truly care about our park system and they won't let it go down in the short term."
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