Rain and a shrinking budget challenge Tim Legare’s staff in Callaway, Fla.

Rainouts like this bring extra maintenance issues and hours of rescheduling.

Tim Legare, CSFM, CPRP, is director of leisure services for the city of Callaway, a city of about 15,000 people near Panama City in the Florida Panhandle. He is responsible for five parks and an 80-acre recreation complex spread across the 9.575 square miles.

But that’s just the start.

His department also maintains the grounds of the city’s Public Safety and Public Works buildings and City Hall, its landscaped medians and the cemetery grounds. He manages all this with five full-time helpers, including a staff assistant and the conference center director, and three grounds personnel from a temporary employment agency.

The fields that he and his staff must keep safe and attractive are used for youth baseball, softball, soccer and football and an adult soccer league use. All of the leagues vie for field time and Legare’s department is tasked with scheduling them.

“We always have more requests for field use than fields available. We work to fit their requests, additional tournaments and on-field events into one master schedule and coordinate the weather-related changes, too,” he says.

In addition, Legare’s staff handles the facility rentals and special event scheduling and coordination, as well as site setup and post-event cleanup. Events range from the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life to a Children’s Fish Rodeo and a weekly farmers’ market that is hosted at a park site 10 months of the year.

Shrinking budget

Like nearly all cities, Callaway, has been struggling since the economic downturn of 2008. Callaway was forced to cut the budget of all departments and freeze employee salaries at fiscal year ’08 levels. Leisure Services funding is now down more than 26 percent since fiscal year 2008. Also, while the city’s population hasn’t changed much since 2008, tighter family budgets are driving the increased use of public facilities.

“Our fiscal year ends September 30. We’ve cut back again for 2013-2014. Obviously, we’ve focused on operating efficiencies and finding ways to do more with less,” says Legare.

As conditions change, needs change within all the different line items. “I’m continually tracking spending and, when necessary, making budget transfers to adjust the allocation while keeping costs within the overall department budget,” says Legare.

Personnel issues are Legare’s greatest challenge. He needs a well-qualified, dedicated staff to maintain the high standards he’s established – and both the public and city officials expect his department to deliver.

The 80-acre Callaway Recreation Complex in the Florida Panhandle gives Tim Legare and his staff enough challenges to keep them hopping.
Photos courtesy of the city of Callaway, Fla.

With no pay increases for the last five years, he’s lost good people. He’s also retained some good people who have stepped up to fill vacated positions.

Legare also combined the horticultural specialist and irrigation specialist position requirements to create a grounds specialist position. “The combined role brings added responsibility and is a pay grade higher than the two previous positions,” he explains.

Temps take on greater role

Legare is state certified for fertilizer and control product applications. He requires both his grounds specialist and grounds foreman to have that certification or to commit to earning it within a designated time after hiring.

The department is also using more temporary personnel. “We typically used temps primarily for specific events or projects prior to 2008. Now we’re using them as needed, over a longer period, to perform a wider range of tasks. It gives us more flexibility in personnel allocation and it’s a great way for us to evaluate an individual’s potential,” explains Legare.

The salary is usually slightly higher than a corresponding staff position, but the savings in the city’s benefits package and reduced liability offset that cost.

“If we do have to let a temp go, we can handle that by a phone call. Once a person is a city employee for over a year, the firing process is much more extensive and time-consuming,” says Legare. “But it does happen. We don’t want to keep someone who can’t or won’t do the job. Our labor hours are much too essential for that.”

He’s found a temp agency that understands his needs and has a pool of personnel that can meet them.

“We have a great working relationship,” he says. “If there’s a particular person we want as a temp we can request them. If we don’t request an individual by name, they identify someone from their pool with the skills to match the task.”

Legare says that cross-training is essential in covering the varied responsibilities with such a small staff.

Says Legare, “Our grounds specialist, foreman and I work with our full-time grounds staff and our temp personnel whenever possible to teach new skills and reinforce those most recently learned.”

Training for each employee consists of observing, trying and critiquing. He repeats the process until the individual achieves acceptable proficiency in the task and it becomes obvious that the individual can’t do it.

Legare can announce open positions in-house to city personnel or advertise them to the public; it’s his option. Sometimes a temp works out well, gaining the skills to apply for an open position that brings them on staff. Then, the training time already expended becomes a greater asset for the city.

Making it work

Legare is president of the North Florida Sports Turf Managers Association (NFSTMA) and on the board of the Florida Turfgrass Association (FTGA). As well as networking with his peers, he attends trade shows, talks with suppliers, attends several different training programs and taps into university research to determine which products and equipment will best fit his needs.

The Callaway Arts & Conference Center at the Callaway Recreational Complex is also used to host training for several trade associations such as NFSTMA, Florida Pest Management Association (FPMA), Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), North Florida Safety Council (NFSC) and the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). This allows city employees to get critical training at no additional cost to the city.

“We maintain the medians on our main road and have gone to low-maintenance, very water-efficient plants,” says Legare. “We’re using a mix of yaupon hollies, junipers and saw palmetto and crepe myrtle trees, along with daylilies, muhly grass and Asiatic jasmine. Once they were established, we were able to shut off the water.”

Rain, rain, rain

As the fates would have it, lack of precipitation turned out not to be an issue this season. Rains drenched the region throughout the summer.

“We’ve been getting lots of rain since June, with over 60 inches from July through September. That caused the most rainout cancellations we’ve ever had, which meant hours of rescheduling.”

Timing of the rainfall hit hard, too. “It rained the Friday night before our Saturday high school district cross country meet. That weekend was also the football fun day, a fundraiser complete with a bounce house and slides and a dunking booth. The impact of all that traffic in wet conditions increased our workload,” recalls Legare.

The rain did save his department and the city some money, though.

“Just operating the main pump at the rec complex normally runs around $800 a month. But those savings were consumed by unplanned, rain-related costs,” says Legare.

His staff maintains the waterways, which includes a network of canals, as well as ponds. The rains not only brought more weeds, they caused erosion.

“We used no-cost, available materials, filling in dirt and sodding, to repair some of our canal banks, but had to do that five or six times. Finally, though, it’s not the look we want, we had to resort to bringing in riprap to keep from filling the canals with mud,” Legare says.

Always Lots to Do

Offerings vary at each of the city of Callaway’s recreational sites. These are highlighted on the Leisure Services section of the city’s website (http://www.cityofcallaway.com) as summarized below.

The 0.65-acre Patterson Park features picnic areas and live oak trees that shade the turf. Another 1-acre park featuring a trail around a half-acre pond, is sprinkled with picnic tables. Walking trails wind through Brittany Woods Park, a site of approximately 5 acres, which also provides picnic areas.

A historic museum, schoolhouse and the Callaway Community Center are located at John B. Gore Park. It also features four sports fields, basketball and tennis courts, a playground, restrooms, two concession stands, a floating dock for fishing and a two-lane boat ramp that provides access to East Bay via the Callaway Bayou.

Tournaments and special events, such as this Cal Ripken Camp, serve the community and increase the staff’s work load.

An F-15 Eagle Fighter plane is displayed at Veterans Park. Along with a pavilion, playground, picnic areas, restrooms and half-mile walking trail, this 3-acre park offers two fishing piers and a launch site for canoes and kayaks.

Opened in the spring of 2000, the Callaway Recreation Complex is the home of the Callaway Arts and Conference Center (CACC) and Leisure Services Department office. It also features a pavilion, two concession stands, three restroom buildings, two playgrounds, a 1-mile walking trail with eight fitness stations, and a 5-acre stocked children’s fishing pond. The complex greatly expanded the city’s facilities for team sports adding: two youth baseball fields, three baseball/softball fields, two T-ball fields, a football field, two full-size soccer fields and two fields for both U-6 and U-10 soccer.

The persistent, heavy rains also caused the water table to rise and caused some vaults to pop out of the ground. While the staff maintains the grounds, each plot is private property. Legare must monitor conditions and alert the owners when problems occur.

“We set up large Thompson pumps to channel excess water into a drainage ditch. Doing that eight hours a day, we just slightly lowered the water in the area,” says Legare.

All the rain speeds up grass growth, and thus the mowing, edging, trimming cycle. The turf is predominantly bermudagrass, with a few areas of bahiagrass and centipedegrass. Most areas are mowed with the department’s four 60-inch, zero-turn Toro rotary mowers.

“We use a 60-inch and a 72-inch reel mower on most of the sports fields; and a greens-type walk-behind reel mower for the baseball infields, T-ball fields and conference center at the rec complex. Though I try to use my hours in the field for cross-training whenever possible, this year I’ve spent three or four hours on a mower many times just to keep up,” he says.

His savvy equipment selection helps trim labor hours. That includes several different types of hedge trimmers, including the long-shaft model with easy-length adjustment. The spraying arsenal also is varied with backpacks, a Toro multisport for the playing surfaces, and a spray tank mounted at the front of the LESCO ride-on spreader for applications at the smaller parks.

Callaway is so far north in Florida, the climate is much like lower Alabama, in the transition zone. Since bermudagrass typically goes dormant, overseeding is one of the things Legare budgets for every year.

“We overseed the lawn areas of City Hall, Public Safety and Veterans Park and the sports fields. City officials want green fields for the opening day of baseball,” he says.

Tim Legare and his staff pose on the pitcher’s mound during a celebration of 50 years of the CIty of Callaway Leisure Services.

He uses a blend of three perennial ryegrass cultivars. “It (overseeded ryegrass) sometimes hangs on a little longer that I’d like, but by cutting back on the irrigation, it’s usually out by Memorial Day weekend. We’ve never tried to transition it out chemically,” he says.

Another given in the annual budget is mole cricket and fire ant control. They use Top Choice for fire ants, which they apply in early spring. That usually keeps these turf pests in check until September. He spot-treats breakthroughs and in untreated areas for special events such as a cross country meet.

Weed control is a variable in the budget. He’s always adjusting a bit and trying out different products.

“Cost is always a consideration,” says Legare. “So in all of our choices, whether that entails products, equipment or personnel, we want the greatest combination of results, productivity and cost-effectiveness.”

Suz Trusty and her husband, Steve, are partners in Trusty & Associates, Council Bluff, Iowa, and have been actively involved in and reporting on the green industry for more than 40 years. Contact her at suz@trusty.bz.