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$2 million approved for park gear

The mowing season isn't far off, and the crews responsible for taking care of Buffalo's 190 parks, playgrounds and recreation centers soon will be using $2 million in new equipment and vehicles to perform their tasks.

Buffalo's control board held a special meeting Monday to approve an expenditure proposed by Mayor Byron W. Brown's administration. The plan won unanimous Common Council approval last week.

The city reclaimed control of its parks in January, ending a 2004 agreement under which Erie County had managed the facilities. Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said much of the equipment for sprucing up parks and other facilities was "outdated and beat-up."

So the city plans to fast-track the purchase of more than 125 mowers, tractors, trailers, stump grinders, mulchers and other maintenance equipment. About half of the new equipment will be assigned to the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. The nonprofit group has been maintaining the six historic parks and connecting parkways designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the 19th century.

Deputy Parks Commissioner Susan M. Gonzalez said she expects all of the equipment and vehicles to arrive within 15 to 30 days.

Jeanette Mongold, the control board's executive director, outlined the city's planned purchases during a brief meeting Monday in the Market Arcade.

Brown, she said, had given assurances that none of the vehicles being bought will be take-home vehicles for employees. All vehicles will be used for parks and recreation functions, officials said. Three vans, for example, will be purchased to serve people visiting community centers.

But control board members noted that one major issue remains in play: Negotiators have yet to hammer out a final agreement with the conservancy to continue maintaining most of the large parks. The group has been performing the chores under the terms of an old pact.

Brown, who sits on the control board, did not attend Monday's meeting. But when asked by The Buffalo News about the status of bargaining with the conservancy, City Finance Commissioner Janet Penksa, his proxy, was tight-lipped.

"We're making good progress, but the mayor has made it a policy of not negotiating contracts in public," was all she would say.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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