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City considers unified department for parks, recreation

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The city might create a new parks department to better maintain some of Winnipeg's neglected green spaces.

Chief administrative officer Phil Sheegl said city parks need some "attention" and there is likely a better way to manage their planning and maintenance. Currently, park maintenance, programs and planning for Winnipeg's 1,000 parks is spread across three city departments.

Sheegl said the city will look at reorganizing those responsibilities and possibly creating a separate department dedicated to parks and open spaces. Winnipeg has not had a devoted parks department in close to 20 years.

"Somehow this all has to be brought back together," Sheegl said on Friday. "We need to look at the reorganizing of the departments."

The move comes on the heels of complaints from Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt and Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie that the city is not doing enough to keep parks in good condition.

Earlier this year, Wyatt alleged the city cut funding to the park maintenance budget, which city officials deny. Wyatt put part of a neighbourhood reserve fund meant for capital projects toward routine maintenance in a handful of parks after residents complained about overgrown grass, garbage and poor drainage.

Eadie took issue with weeds growing out of Main Street flower planters and recently organized a volunteer effort to plant flowers on the medians.

Wyatt said the state of some of the parks across the city is deplorable, and he supports the idea of improving them. He said he would like to see a parks and recreation department created (since so many recreational facilities are located in parks) and the city improve its maintenance service.

Wyatt said he hopes the reorganization is not a way to quietly make cuts to other services.

"There's a real need for reinvestment there. We're falling far behind," he said.

The fact the city now sees park maintenance a priority is encouraging, Eadie said, but senior staff also need to consider adding more money to the park budget. Eadie said many larger parks such as Machray Park no longer have a dedicated staff person and are on a 14-day maintenance cycle.

He said that means city staff don't have time to tend to things such as weeding out sandboxes and cleaning off play structures. He said maintenance staff are stretched thin, and the city should consider hiring additional people.

"You can merge it all together, but it's still the same dollars," Eadie said. "We're going to have to look at dollars to bring up the staffing again."

Sheegl said reorganizing how parks are maintained will make it more efficient and save the city money that could be put toward park maintenance. He said parks will be one of the top priorities for the city's newly appointed chief operating officer, Deepak Joshi. Joshi, the former director of planning, will start his new position on Monday.

Sheegl also said the city will consider reorganizing Winnipeg's bylaw enforcement and inspections. Right now, he said there is some overlap between the two departments and senior staff will examine whether complaints regarding the neighbourhood livability bylaw -- which deals with things such as garbage complaints about private properties -- could be merged into the planning department, which already handles complaints about vacant and derelict buildings.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 13, 2011 A7

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