Open space manager job worth making permanent

Milford environmentalists are pushing for making the open space manager a permanent post rather than a seasonal one. While times are tough and money is tight, it seems their request is worth consideration, primarily because the city found a gem in the open space manager hired last year and it would be a shame to lose him.

Steve Johnson is really the reason the job should be made part of the city budget at this time. Johnson has gone above and beyond the call of duty since taking on the seasonal/temporary post. He’s everywhere, it seems, involved in all aspects of city life that even remotely relate to the city’s open space.

He has accomplished a considerable amount of work in the year he’s been working for the city, from compiling an inventory of open space to starting to correct some of the ATV damage at the Solomon property. He led a shovel brigade after Nemo, organized volunteers to clean up after Storm Sandy, and has gotten involved in school projects and various community initiatives.

The city appears to have been getting more than its money’s worth from Steve Johnson.

In addition to all that, Johnson has been pulling in grants that the city would not have gotten if he wasn’t there applying for them. So the job could, in the long run, pay for itself, depending on the size and amount of funding Johnson continues to bring into the city.

Environmentalists pushing to make the job permanent realistically pointed out that they want the job stamped into the city budget so that it continues on, whether Johnson is the director or not. As it is set up now, funding for the job comes from money that developers have put into an account for open space, and transfer of money from that open space fund to the account to pay the open space manager’s salary has to be done each year. The aldermen recently voted to approve transfer of the money for another year.

The good thing about the setup now is that the land use manager’s pay doesn’t come from taxpayer dollars but rather from that fund fed by developers. The bad thing, for the person in the position, is that it’s really just a temporary job that has to be approved each year. Today’s economy has made this kind of job security, or lack of it, very common, but it’s easy to understand why a qualified land expert with responsibilities might not be able to hang on to that kind of job too long. A little more security is needed.

Proponents of the job point out that the city has a director to watch most of its assets: There is a library director, director of finance, recreation director, and so on. They say it makes sense, therefore, to have a director on board who manages and oversees the city’s open space.

Times are still tough, but because this position has the potential to bring in funds through grants, and because Johnson is so worth keeping, the Board of Aldermen would do well to consider the request as they work to complete the 2014-15 city budget.