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TOUR FINDS BIG PARKS OK, SMALL ONES HURTING

Buffalo's largest parks appear to be in pretty good shape as the busy season approaches, but officials who embarked on a tour Wednesday worry about conditions in neighborhood parks.

Mayor Anthony M. Masiello took a City Hall delegation on a bus tour of a dozen parks and recreation centers. This is the first time Erie County is responsible for spring cleanups in city parks under a takeover approved last year. County officials have given assurances that even though a fiscal crisis has disrupted some county services, Buffalo's parks will be well maintained.

"We're doing a seeing-is-believing tour today," said Masiello. "We need to be ahead of the curve and make sure everything that needs to be done to get the parks ready is taking place."

Masiello was joined by four Council members and other city officials. They concluded that work in the larger Olmsted parks, including Cazenovia, Martin Luther King and Delaware, is moving forward at an acceptable pace. But concerns surfaced about aging equipment, staffing levels and conditions in some smaller pocket parks.

The group met with Deborah Ann Trimble, executive director of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy. The county hired the not-for-profit group to run the larger parks. Trimble said post-winter chores are being performed, but that equipment problems have posed certain challenges.

"In some cases, the equipment is really old. In other cases, there's just not enough of it to go around," she said.

County officials have pointed out that they inherited the older equipment from the city. Trimble said the Conservancy hopes to raise money to replace it.

As the tour moved to Houghton Park, officials ran into a veteran parks worker who complained about unrealistic workloads. Patrick W. Casey said 16 city employees used to care for 45 parks in his area. Under the takeover, he said, there are three employees.

"It's impossible," he said. "We just don't have the manpower."

Casey said even when Social Services recipients are assigned to help, transporting them to the right spots presents problems.

Masiello said he is concerned about staff shortages in some city recreation centers operated by the county. The city pays Erie County $1.8 million a year to run parks and recreation facilities.

The last stop on the three-hour tour was Lafayette Park off Tacoma Avenue near Delaware. Swing sets were covered with offensive graffiti. Garbage littered the lawn.

"This is one of our forgotten parks," said Council Majority Leader Marc A. Coppola of the Delaware District.

Masiello said the city might assign its crews to help in some neighborhood parks, even though Buffalo is not obligated to do so under the takeover deal.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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