By Pat Jenkins
With a budget that wasn’t stretching far enough, the town of Eatonville needed some fiscal relief – and is getting it from its employees.
Park maintenance is now the duty of firefighters, police officers, and workers in the utility departments. It’s strictly voluntary, but much appreciated, town leaders note.
“”The town wouldn’t be able to function if it wasn’t for the way our employees are pitching in,” said Mayor Ray Harper.
Workers for maintaiing parks are among the budget cuts the town has been forced to make in the past year. Turning that duty over to volunteers from the community would be challenging from the standpoint of safety and potential liability.
So town administrator Doug Beagle suggested that the remaining workforce could, at their choosing, volunteer for extra duty to keep parks mowed, weeded and watered.
It’s strictly voluntary, officials emphasized. The workers are union members and can say no if they want to.
“They’re all doing it willingly,” Beagle said. “We’re all just trying to get things done.”
The Fire Department has taken Nevitt Park under its wing. The Police Department is keeping tabs on the Visitor Center. The electric department is taking care of Mill Pond Park and also lending a hand with Smallwood Park and the cemetery when needed. And the water and sewer and building departments are sharing upkeep of Glacier and Smallwood park, as well as the cemetery.
Also picking up some slack are office workers by keeping restrooms and their work areas tidy so the town can save on janitorial services.
Town officials also have found a way to fill in labor gaps by letting citizens work off Municipal Court penalties. Called community services workers, they’re assigned to help pull weeds and do other grounds maintenance at parks, the cemetery and for street plantings.
When citizens elect community service instead of paying court fines, “they take a huge load off our employees,” Beagle said. For instance, mowing and weeding the cemetery is a full day’s job, sometimes requiring another half-day or so to finish.
“We’re careful about what kind of power equipment we let (the citizens) use,” Beagle added. Push mowers are okay, but not riding mowers.
Ten to 12 paid employees are pulling park duty. Volunteer firefighters also are involved.
Water and sewer workers are doing their part during their regular work hours, with no overtime.
On-duty firefighters, including volunteers, park their rigs at the park site while they’re there sprucing things up. “The equipment is right there in case there’s an emergency call,” Beagle said.
The citizenry likes the extra effort. The audience at a recent Town Hall meeting applauded loudly in shared appreciation when Councilman Bob Schaub publicly thanked the Fire Department for its efforts with Nevitt Park.
Police officers have dipped into their own pockets to help out in another way. Police chief Jason McGuire said they “all decided to pitch in” and donate several hundred dollars for a new Police Department sign that was faded and peeling.
Reserve officers Robin Smith and Kelly Shoopman urged replacing the sign “as it is an extreme eyesore and does not represent this department well,” McGuire said.
Local artist David Craig made the new one.