IONIA – The City of Ionia is creating a full-time position in the Parks and Recreation Department – hoping to maintain sustainability with programming.
Ionia City Council voted unanimously at its September 6 meeting to increase the position of Recreation Programs Coordinator to the department from part-time to full-time. Parks and Recreation will be benchmarked for the next three years to track corresponding changes in recreation program revenues.
Ionia Town Manager Precia Garland said a detailed analysis by the Department of Parks and Recreation had been carried out. The city reviewed the staffing of its parks and recreation department against national benchmarks.
Garland concluded that Ionia’s parks and recreation department was significantly understaffed and “really operating in a fragile and unsustainable staffing model,” she said.
The National Recreation Parks Association (NRPA) reported that a typical agency has 8.3 full-time equivalents (FTEs) for every 10,000 residents living in the area it serves. Based on Ionia’s population, the parks and recreation department is expected to have 5.5 FTEs, Garland noted. The Parks and Recreation Department currently has 2.1 FTEs — and 2.7 FTEs if you include Department of Public Works staff who help maintain city parks.
The Parks and Recreation Department includes Director Matt Painter, the Recreation Programs Coordinator, a volunteer Parks Facility Worker and four paid seasonal employees. The department offers 17 different recreation programs each year and maintains the city’s 15 parks.
Ionia City spends $64.12 per capita on parks and recreation operations, which is below the national average. The city has budgeted more than $422,000 in the 2022-23 fiscal year for parks and recreation.
Garland offered to make the Recreational Programs Coordinator part-time a full-time position. It is currently owned by Keegan Rice, who spent 14 years in the role and whom Painter called an “outstanding employee”. Garland said the change takes the position from 30 hours per week to 40, plus benefits.
“We’re very skinny right now,” Garland said. “We just don’t have any backups in case someone gets sick or wants to take a vacation. Maintaining staff in such conditions becomes difficult and long-term employees are truly our greatest asset.
By transferring the position of Recreation Programs Coordinator to full-time, Garland expects the town to collect more than $25,000 in the first year in new revenue generated from new events and activities. The additional cost to do the job full time is $41,751, a difference of about $16,600. Garland offered to use general fund dollars to cover the difference, establishing a balanced budget for fiscal year 2023.
“We’re really confident that with the added time and the growth in programming, by year three we think there will be additional revenue to really offset 85% of the cost of the increased staff,” Garland said.
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First Ward councilman Gordon Kelley questioned why the city couldn’t add part-time employees instead of creating the full-time position. Kelley said he supported the move but “wanted to make sure we did our job for the community.” Garland said she believes adding part-timers would jeopardize “the department’s long-term retention and sustainability.” Painter agreed, noting that part-time work won’t be as attractive to potential future applicants as full-time work would be.
“I think we’re going to go backwards if we switch and keep trying to add part-time staff,” Painter said.
Painter assured the council that the department will be able to cover what is needed by increasing the position by 10 hours.
Ionia Mayor Dan Balice said parks and recreation is an essential part of a community’s quality of life and believes full-time staff are needed to keep programs running.
“It seems like a really good way to build on our momentum (at) minimal cost,” Balice said.
— Contact journalist Evan Sasiela at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SalsaEvan.