Kent leaders defend seasonal worker wages after residents criticize low-paid parks and rec job

Screenshot of the Parks and Rec job posting, which has since been removed.

Residents of the City of Kent have expressed concern about the pay range of a recent job posting by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. The job, a seasonal parks maintenance position, offered a wage of between $9.69 and $11.78 an hour.  

Although the position has since been filled by a returning staffer, the posting sparked criticism from residents on Facebook, who argued the compensation is unacceptable given the current cost of living and a nationwide push for fair wages. The department deleted comments on the post and disabled the ability to comment, which they later said was because the position had been filled.  

Despite inflation rising 7.9% over the past year, its highest since 1982, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, the City of Kent said in an interview that the wage range is comparable to similar positions in the area.  

“I don’t really think we are out of range with those positions,” Kent Human Resources Manager Suzanne Stemnock said. “Normally in government we do a survey, and we look around to see what comparable communities around us are paying.”  

The job posting, which is no longer published, described the job responsibilities involving “gardening, general grounds maintenance, rock and concrete work” and a number of other cleaning, repair and janitorial duties. Necessary knowledge and skills included concrete work, horticulture, the operation and repair of equipment, and methods used in landscaping.

Stemnock also pointed out the pay difference between city union jobs and non-union jobs like the seasonal parks role. Union workers include firefighters, police officers, dispatcher and full-time construction crews.  

In the City of Kent, the highest paid non-union seasonal workers made a maximum of $30.75 an hour for program instructing, with a minimum of $10.12 an hour. Kent City Council has approved a pay range of $9.69 to $11.03 an hour for park maintenance jobs this year, with a maximum of $11.53 an hour by 2024. 

Stemnock said wage increases are not implemented until city council reports a cost of living increase. If that happens, the pay scale for all city-wide positions will adjust accordingly.  

“They will get increased by that amount; all positions in the city do,” she said. “As far as specific positions, the department heads have to make a case for that, and it’s reviewed by committee.”  

Angela Manley, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said they plan on turning multiple seasonal and part-time jobs into full-time roles for 2023, which would offer better compensation to workers.  

“We’ve already made a few positions full-time for 2022, and that is still a priority for 2023,” she said.  

Applicants may have to be patient as they wait for more full-time opportunities to open, which requires a complicated process involving multiple government departments.  

“Unfortunately, local governments can’t operate at the same speed as a retailer,” Council Member Gwen Rosenberg said. “We have to be very deliberative about it being in the budget ahead of time, and we don’t have the ability to alter things with an immediacy that exists in the private sector.”

City council will hold finance meetings this spring, and next year’s budget will be approved near the end of 2022.

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Mason Lawlor is a freelance journalist based in Kent. He is a Kent State journalism and business graduate and has worked for WKSU and KentWired.