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OP highway chief suggests committee look at transfer of park maintenance

Orchard Park's highway superintendent wants a committee formed to look into how to improve the maintenance of the town's parks.

That's Frederick J. Piasecki Jr.'s reply to a proposal made in September by the Recreation Commission that the Recreation Department take over the operation of parks from the Highway Department.

"The present system that we have in place, I think, in terms of economics, works very well," Piasecki said. "We provide some of the best natural turf athletic fields around Western New York. I take a lot of pride in the parks crew doing that."

The Highway Department has five full-time employees, including the parks foreman, working on parks maintenance. They are overseen by the highway superintendent, who receives an $11,900 stipend for being parks superintendent.

Under a proposal included in a report by the Recreation Commission in September, those five employees would perform those duties exclusively from April 1 through Oct. 31, in a newly formed Parks and Recreation Department. From Nov. 1 through March 31, two employees would remain with parks and rec, while the others would be loaned to the Highway Department for the seasonal work of brush and leaf collection and snowplowing.

The idea behind the proposal is to streamline maintenance of the parks by the Recreation Department. Recreation staffers issue permits for parks activities, and feel it would be easier for them to schedule maintenance, such as mowing, when parks are not in use. Staffers also say most complaints about the condition of parks come to recreation employees, who then must contact the Highway Department.

But the highway superintendent is not jumping behind the proposal.

He said the supervisor, recreation director or head of the Recreation Commission or their designees and himself should form a committee to come up with best practices to understand each department and improve communication to "make sure the parks are in good shape."

The Recreation Commission report suggests the increase in recreation programs and participants has placed added strain on the facilities at a time when development in town and aging infrastructure require more attention by the Highway Department, and Piasecki agrees.

But he notes that most of the park and public land being maintained by the Highway Department are outside the active parks and playgrounds covered in the recreation proposal. He also said the current system works well and provides operational efficiency between highway and parks duties.

"Any decision has potential for serious impact on important stakeholders, other town departments, and other municipalities," Piasecki said in his three-page response to the recreation proposal.

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