Green Bay panel OKs pay raise for seasonal parks workers; many parks still won't have summer rec programs in 2023
GREEN BAY - A City Council committee on Thursday approved a budget proposal that collects 11.6% more in taxes and substantially increases the pay of seasonal parks workers, but leaves 16 of 32 parks without summer programs for the second straight year.
The Joint Finance and Personnel Committee approved boosting the salaries of seasonal parks workers by 25% to 30%, to $16 an hour, in an effort to stem the migration of workers toward better pay in nearby municipalities. But it left intact the Parks Department’s plan to keep half of its summer park programs dark in 2023, as it did during the summer of 2022 when the city was dealing with staffing difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is my 11th budget," said City Council member Mark Steuer, who's in his sixth term on the board. "Over the years, the Parks Department has (gotten hit harder than other departments). This is a quality-of-life issue."
Committee members, in a 5.5-hour session Thursday, added roughly $200,000 to Mayor Eric Genrich's total spending proposal. Genrich's proposed budget called for spending $96.7 million, 6.6% more than 2022 spending; about 62% of that is to fund police and fire.
Genrich's budget called for a 10% pay increase for Green Bay's seasonal parks workers — usually younger people who do the job to earn money during a mid-year break from school.
All city departments were hard hit in 2022, but the impact on Green Bay's Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department was especially difficult.
As it had in 2021, the city struggled to open its three pools: the Resch Aquatic Center at Fisk Park, the Joannes Aquatic Center by East High School and Colburn Pool on the west side. The city also faced a challenge from other nearby communities that run recreation programs and pay more than Green Bay. De Pere, for example, paid lifeguards $16 an hour in 2022; new guards in Green Bay earned $12.30.
City Council members were divided on the issue. Several stressed that parks programs are essential for youth who might not have the ability, or the family money, to afford recreation programs that require higher entry fees, such as a sport where players travel to play.
"To me, this is a core service, a core responsibility" that the city provides for its youth, said Ninth Ward City Council member Brian Johnson. "But it's really important, that if we make the investment, those spots get filled" so that residents can take advantage of a full slate of recreation programming.
Hardest-hit by the loss of recreation programs, Johnson said, are children from households who can least afford to experience a shortage. He said a child who lives near the west side's Seymour Park, which had no summer program last year, could attend a program at nearby Tank Park. But a youngster on the city's far east side might have to cross a highway to get to the next closest park; someone on the city's southwest side might have to navigate Military Avenue traffic.
Council President Jesse Brunette, however, opposed increasing the wage beyond the 10% Genrich proposed. "I support (paying more), but I can't vote for it," Brunette said.
He said committee members should remove some of the increases the mayor's proposal added, rather than simply saying yes to everything. He said the increases in the spending plan are not fair to residents with limited incomes and those who have been hard hit by inflation.
But Brunette, despite several attempts, was unable to convince other council members to use federal stimulus money to reduce the impact on taxpayers. Stimulus funds were made available to local governments by Congress under the American Rescue Plan Act, but committee members defeated several attempts by Brunette to allocate ARPA funds to offset some costs, saying ARPA's use would pose a problem when those funds are no longer available in future years.
Overall, the city has nearly 60 parks, some comprehensive and some like the Arnie Wolff Sports Complex, Finger Road Softball Complex and the Metro Boat Launch that are focused on specialized activities.
The budget proposal goes before the full council on Nov. 10.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Green Bay panel OKs pay raise for seasonal parks workers in '23 budget