Fixes to local baseball diamonds highlight the list of repairs.

Fixes to local baseball diamonds highlight the list of repairs.

Photo by Brian Louwers

Warren City Council OKs $3.6 million for park improvements

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published July 19, 2019

WARREN — Outdated restrooms, troubled baseball fields and aging structures top the list of repairs and improvements coming to Warren’s city parks, sought as part of an additional $3.6 million budgetary allocation unanimously approved by the Warren City Council July 9.

The request was brought before the council members by Warren Parks and Recreation Director Dino Turcato and became a late addition to the meeting agenda, following its introduction during a Committee of the Whole session the night before.

While the vote was unanimous, several council weighed in on the request to pull money from the city’s general fund balance and expressed concerns ranging from the cost of maintenance after the initial additional appropriation, to the availability of amenities at parks in the south end, to potential future programs.

“I was critical in the fact that we’re going to spend this money and then we’re not going to be able to maintain it,” Warren City Councilman Scott Stevens said. “That’s where my fear lies. I think if the city is going to maintain its status as the third-largest city and we’re going to attract young families to the city and keep the population up, we’ve got to have viable parks.”

Councilman Robert Boccomino questioned whether parks in Warren’s south end would see restroom use restored with locks removed, despite what he called misplaced “fear” of potential vandalism. He said he visited the park during the annual cleanup and believed those concerns to be an insufficient reason to keep the bathrooms locked and unusable for residents.

“The facts say no. The word fear is used all the time. Don’t believe it,” Boccomino said. “I’ve been fighting to keep those bathrooms open. The facts do not point to more vandalism in those bathrooms.”

City Councilwoman Kelly Colegio called the condition of the parks “embarrassing” and questioned Turcato about whether he had brought the situation to the attention of the members of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

“It’s very important that we have their input. That’s really what they’re there for,” Colegio said. “They’re the citizens’ voice on that (commission).”

She said the city, in effect, outsourced some of its parks maintenance work to save money years ago, but has now incurred an additional cost to bring the parks back into shape.

“We outsourced the union jobs. This is kind of what you got for the money,” Colegio said.

Warren City Controller Rob Maleszyk said the city could put a “tax neutral” plan in place to bolster parks and recreation by assessing 0.5 mill less for the library millage now that the city is nearing the end of its plan to construct two new libraries in south Warren. The plan would involve using that money, amounting to about $1.7 million a year, to instead support parks and recreation.

“My recommendation would be to go to folks for 0.5 of a mill, but reduce the library (millage) so it’s tax neutral,” Maleszyk said.

Despite a lengthy discussion over two days and a flurry of questions interspersed with election year politics, the council voted 7-0 to approve the measure.

“I’ll keep everything in mind. The council is more than welcome to call me with ideas,” Turcato said. “I’m open. I appreciate all the support.”

Turcato said that work to update and repair the restrooms at some parks would begin immediately and that hopefully those facilities, along with the city’s baseball diamonds, could be improved by late fall.