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LOTS OF PARKS, RECREATION, TOO FEW WORKERS

Town of Tonawanda officials are proud of their Parks and Recreation Department, which boasts golf courses, an indoor driving range, an aquatic center and gym and several parks.

The town has it all, it seems, except one thing -- employees.

Town officials are worried they will be unable to hire enough high school and college students to fill seasonal parks and recreation jobs this year.

They say a shrinking town population and competition from fast-food restaurants and mall outlet stores make it difficult to fill lifeguarding, maintenance and concession jobs.

"It used to be we had 110,000, 115,000 people in the town, most of them kids, and no jobs," Daniel J. Wiles, the director of Tonawanda's Youth, Parks and Recreation Department, said Monday. "Now we're down to 80,000, most of them seniors, and there are a lot of other jobs out there."

Wiles said the town needs to fill 109 part-time positions this spring and summer at two golf courses, parks, the Paddock Chevrolet Golf Dome and the aquatic center.

They've received 51 applications.

"We're still behind historically where we are at this time," Wiles said at a Town Board workshop Monday. "Significantly behind."

After the workshop, Wiles said the town faces a time crunch because he needs to have the staff of the town's golf courses in place by April 1.

Wiles said he will sit down with other Recreation Department workers to figure out how to attract more applicants.

Workers will attend job fairs at local high schools, reach out to students in programs at the state university campuses in Brockport and Cortland and advertise in local media, Wiles said.

He said the town has always set a minimum age of 18 for all its part-time workers, except lifeguards, but this season the town may hire 17-year-olds where appropriate.

The town has also started hiring young people who do not live in the town.

Wiles said the town used to have little competition in the summer jobs arena for older teenagers. He said the tide changed when the Boulevard Mall, with dozens of year-round, part-time jobs for young people, opened in Amherst and when Sheridan Drive became a major commercial strip.

Expansion of the town's Recreation Department has created more jobs. Where lifeguards used to work eight or 10 weeks a year, Wiles said, now with the aquatic center they work all year.

The town pays roughly 50 to 75 cents above the state's minimum wage of $5.15 per hour, Wiles said.

That's not enough to attract teens today, Council Member Raymond E. Sinclair said.

"Every Wendy's, every McDonald's, has a sign up: Help wanted," Sinclair said.

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