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By Timothy Chipp
Town of Niagara officials are debating how much to pay Recreation Department staff for the upcoming summer season.
Think of it as a boxing ring. In one corner, you have Supervisor – and former Recreation Department Director – Lee Wallace. He and current department Director Amanda Haseley feel the hiring season could be competitive as the town returns to a full schedule of fun for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With this expectation, they want to increase the department’s starting wage to $17 for 25 part-time employees who will help oversee activities like family movie nights on Thursdays, miniature golfing, the town’s repaired splash pad, and operate two concession stands.
“We’ve never done this before,” Wallace said about the number of responsibilities employees will have. “We don’t really know how this is going to go. It’s been a while since we’ve had a full program, and may need to make adjustments.”
The town also has bocce and several one-off events, meaning these 25 positions need to be filled.
Meanwhile, the other corner features Councilman Richard Sirianni, raring to fight the proposal, which could go before the Town Board during the next monthly meeting, set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21.
Sirianni said he’s not interested in paying significantly more than neighboring towns pay their seasonal employees, given the tough financial situation the town finds itself in as it awaits an uncertain situation with Amazon – itself dealing with right-sizing during inflation – not yet committed to building the proposed warehouse the board approved in August.
Sticking firm to his stance during the Town Board’s monthly work session Wednesday, Sirianni called up numbers he said he received from both the towns of Wheatfield and Lewiston regarding their hourly pay for seasonal employees.
Both, he said, are much closer to current minimum wage, which sits at $14.20 for the 2023 calendar year.
Sirianni, who said he has to balance his fight to help workers earn what they deserve with the needs of the town’s taxpayers, took issue with two other aspects of the proposal: hiring what would be termed a “recreation leadman” and identifying revenues from these seasonal activities and where the money goes.
He compared the leadman title to those held by employees in other departments, namely the sewer and highway departments. There, leadmen take the lead in organizing workloads and serve as essentially supervisors in their departments under the department heads.
Sirianni said he didn’t think a Recreation Department lead, which under the current proposal would receive an additional $2 in salary for the season, provides as much to the residents as what they receive from other leadmen.
Questions about where the money goes and how much can be made stemmed from his wondering where the department gets the funding to increase hourly pay.
But Haseley said the department’s budget established in January allows the bump in pay, while revenues from the town’s events and regular operations go to the general fund, not to paying employees directly.
“But we don’t see it,” Sirianni said. “We don’t know how much is coming in.”