WAILUKU - The county Department of Parks and Recreation is hoping to add several new positions to its staff in the upcoming fiscal year, including park rangers, maintenance workers and administrative staff.
The Maui County Council Budget and Finance Committee reviewed Tuesday the department's request for a $32.7 million operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. The funds would allow the department to hire one part-time and six full-time park security officers. They would be in charge of locking county facilities and working with the Maui Police Department to patrol parks after hours; a part-time lifeguard for Cooke Memorial Pool on Molokai; and four park caretakers. Parks officials also plan to convert a few existing clerical positions to payroll positions.
"Since the fiscal year 2011, the Maui County Parks Department has had over 30 positions cut," department Deputy Director Brianne Savage said at the committee meeting. "All the while, the department has continued to acquire new parks, additional responsibilities and (been) expected to maintain the facilities and operations with small increases in funding and no increases in manpower while the cost of labor, services and construction continue to climb annually."
Savage said that the department needs more staff to maintain the county's 145 park facilities and nine swimming pools. Millions of residents and visitors frequent county parks every year, she said, and that heavy use has taken a toll on a number of parks. The average age of park facilities in Maui County is 47 years, and as facilities age, they need more maintenance.
"What we are proposing this year . . . is the beginning of a process that requires daily leadership to shift the responses from being reactive to proactive," Savage said.
But council members were unsure whether appropriating more funds was the only solution to the department's problems.
"The question is whether the things we've shown concern over the last year or so are going to get fixed because of the change in energy or accountability versus by spending a higher level of funds on it," committee Chairman Mike White said.
"The parks department is one of our larger departments and one that has had significant increases in the last couple of years. . . . We need to be sharp in our review of this."
A few council members said that they received a number of complaints from their constituents regarding park bathrooms and other county facilities being neglected.
"This is a tough one to figure out," Council Member Don Couch said. "As much as we're trying to shave (expenses), this is somewhere tourists go, too.
. . . If we can get them (the parks department) to improve (their operations) a little bit, it might be worth it, but it's tough to throw good money toward potentially not too good upkeep."
White pointed out that the department's budget was $32.1 million last year, which included the Ocean Safety Division. That division is scheduled to be transferred to the Maui Fire Department this year, along with its approximately $2.5 million annual operating budget.
Even without the more than 50 ocean safety positions, the Parks Department is asking for $32.7 million this year.
The department has also come under scrutiny in recent months as Director Glenn Correa was reportedly put on administrative leave in February. County spokesman Rod Antone said Tuesday that there has been no change since what was last reported, and that he could not comment on the "personnel matter."
A former parks department employee told The Maui News in February that Maui police were investigating operations at the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course involving free rounds of golf and Correa's alleged knowledge of the situation. Police neither confirmed nor denied that they were investigating an allegation that county employees were golfing at the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course while on county time.
Council members said Tuesday that they did not know the current employment status of Correa and were not sure of their powers in addressing the situation. If it were to come up, the committee would likely go into executive session to discuss "personnel matters," a council member said.
The county budget hearings are scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. today.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.