As Willamalane Park and Recreation faces continued financial challenges resulting from COVID-19, the park district made the difficult decision to furlough 59 employees. The park district draws approximately 40 percent of its operating budget from program revenue, facility admissions, sponsorships, and donations and projects significant losses until stay at home and social distancing restrictions are lifted.
“The ongoing financial impact of this crisis has eliminated the district’s ability to provide almost all of our programs and services to our community, thus affecting our wonderful staff which provides them.” stated Michael Wargo, Willamalane Superintendent. “These staffing decisions are a difficult but necessary step to ensure the long-term financial health of the district.”
The affected employees work in a variety of departments across the district. This includes those who work in early childhood education, parks and maintenance, aquatics, and administrative positions. These areas were hit hard after the district announced extended closures of facilities and programming.
“We’re doing everything we can to support our community and staff through this crisis, and our staff are essential to carrying out our mission,” Michael Wargo stated. “It is heartbreaking to furlough so many great employees who do an incredible job serving Springfield. They have created hundreds of at-home craft kids, helped provide meals to seniors, staffed a mobile food pantry, coordinated volunteers to make masks for our community, and adapted to the ever-changing needs of our community. We’ve also provided digital programming in the areas of fitness, parks, and family resources.”
Willamalane, even after closing its facilities to the public and canceling programs beginning on March 12, kept union and full-time employees on the payroll but the loss of all recreational revenues eventually created a financial burden to the operational budget. All employees were offered a COVID-19 leave program equal to a two-week average of their regular hours. This leave bank that Willamalane provided could be used to offset any absence related to COVID-19. However, many employees have now exhausted their COVID-19 leave, and workload has drastically reduced due to the extended program cancellations and facility closures.
Willamalane will continue to provide existing medical, dental, and life insurance benefits to all impacted employees during the furlough, through June 30.
Under the recent CARES act, because it is an extended unpaid leave, employees are able to file for unemployment insurance along with additional benefits available. Employees can elect to leave the program and their employment connection with the park district at any time.