P&Z agenda includes funding open space manager's job

The Planning and Zoning Board is expected to discuss at its Nov. 18 meeting a proposal to use $55,000 of available funds from the Open Space Fund to continue the services of Steven Johnson, the city's open space and natural resource agent.

Johnson was originally hired using funds from this account.

Environmentalists tried earlier this year to make Johnson's job a little more secure by adding his job to the city budget, rather than having it funded through the open space fund. Now his job is considered a seasonal/temporary position, whereas adding it to the budget would have made it more permanent.

The city has three open space funds. The one that pays for Johnson is funded by local developers, who choose to make a monetary donation to the fund rather than set aside land in their development for open space. The funds in that account can be used only to benefit the preservation of open space.

Local environmentalists sang Johnson's praises as the 2014 budget process got underway, calling him a “Renaissance man” and urging city leaders to make sure they don’t lose him.

Bill Poutray, chairman of the city's conservation commission, said after Johnson started working for the city he completed an inventory of open space, examining more than 2,000 parcels of land the city owns.

He rallied volunteers to clean debris from the beach area after Hurricane Sandy and organized a shovel brigade to help people clear their sidewalks after Blizzard Nemo.

“Steven and neighbors stopped destructive ATV use at the Solomon property and the land has started going back to its natural state,” Poutray said.

In addition to a number of other efforts, Johnson has brought in considerable money in grant funds, including $500,000 to repair a boardwalk and make other improvements at the Beaverbrook nature preserve.

While it looked for a while as though Johnson’s job would be added to the city budget, during last-minute reductions it was axed, and therefore remains as a position paid by the open space fund.