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Trafford council members consider borough-run summer program

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 1:18 p.m.

Dissatisfied with decreased attendance this year and a proposed pay raise for part-time staff next year, some Trafford officials are considering offering an borough-run summer playground program instead of relying on the Penn-Trafford Area Recreation Commission.

Council members Vicki Megon and John Daykon also broached the idea of an outright withdrawal of the borough from the intermunicipal agreement for PTARC, though they said they wouldn't want to penalize residents by making them pay “nonresident” fees for PTARC programming.

Megon, a PTARC board member alternate, described this year's free playground program as “disorganized,” and Daykon said he thinks PTARC's leadership has little involvement in the program after the employees are hired.

Council members said they would invite PTARC Director Cheryl Kemerer to attend their next meeting on Dec. 17 to discuss the program.

Though attendance fell at six of the seven playgrounds in the PTARC program, the biggest drops were at the two Trafford sites, a problem Kemerer has attributed to a rainy summer. Turnout sank from 76 children at Woodlawn Park in 2012 to 28 last summer and from 62 to 34 at Fairmont Park.

After budgeting more than $8,000 for program salaries in 2013, Megon balked at Kemerer's recommendation that the playground employees receive an extra 50 cents per hour next year. The increase would mean about $100 more for each of the four employees, Megon said, and council also has discussed hiring a fifth person at a potential new site in the Trafford Terrace neighborhood.

Under the proposed new pay rates, which would be the first increase in several years, a site supervisor would receive $9 per hour and other workers would get $8.50 an hour.

Daykon said Trafford doesn't pay its part-time summer road crew workers that much.

“The kids doing the manual labor are getting less than the ones sitting in a playground,” he said.

Councilwoman Rita Windsor, who serves on the PTARC board, said she thought Megon's and Daykon's comments unfairly made it sound like PTARC was “useless.”

“It is a great committee, and they do a lot of good work,” Windsor said.

Trafford's relationship with PTARC has grown tenuous over the past year.

In August 2012, as the borough dealt with a budget crisis, council rejected a state grant that would have paid for half of an estimated $90,000 skate park at B-Y Park. At the time, Kemerer, who applied for the grant, said the decision could hurt PTARC's relationship with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. However, Megon and Daykon said Trafford's finances — in particular, its inability to pay for matching funds — came before PTARC's reputation.

Last summer, Trafford depended on Manager Jeff McLaughlin to apply for a state grant to improve Westmoreland Park instead of Kemerer after council complained about a PTARC consulting architect's work on a site plan. The move also ensured Trafford could avoid paying PTARC a 2.5-percent administrative fee — which PTARC board members subsequently rescinded in October — when borough officials learned last week that they received the $215,120 grant.

Kemerer, who was not at the meeting, said Trafford officials may do whatever they want to do with the playground program. A few years ago, Manor ran its own program for a summer before returning the following year, she said.

Manor Mayor Dave Sturgess said that happened because a couple of borough recreation board members had some people they wanted to hire for the summer jobs, so they organized the program on their own.

The program went well that summer, Sturgess said, and he hasn't heard of any issues with PTARC's management since then. Attendance at Lower Manor Park was 58 for the past two years, according to PTARC records.

Kemerer, who has a degree specializing in parks and recreation, said the rec agency provides professional training of the staff and day-to-day supervision, as well as handling any disciplinary problems at the sites. Summer workers also attend a weekly staff meeting.

She said she is requesting the higher pay because of the difficulty in finding candidates, noting that a gas-station chain offers to start employees at $8.25 an hour.

“It's a 21-hour-per-week job during the day, so I know a lot of people, if they can get something with more hours or a higher pay rate (they will),” Kemerer said. “I think kids today, with the cost of college, are looking for something where they can make the most money they can.”

Nick Petrucci, who serves on the PTARC and Trafford Recreation boards, said he is opposed to Trafford taking on the playground program. He said he “can't say enough words of praise” for Kemerer, whom he credited for improving the rec agency's finances this year.

“What I see, I'm very pleased with,” Petrucci said.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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