HARRISBURG—Harrisburg is home to 27 parks and playgrounds that are patrolled by a single park ranger.
That could change next year.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse revealed last week that he plans to add a second park ranger to his proposed 2017 budget.
The mayor made the announcement during a news conference about PPL donating $15,000 to the park at Fourth and Emerald streets to build a new pavilion. The donation went to the newly formed Parks Foundation.
The city once employed 18 park rangers in 1997, but that figure was eventually reduced over the years due to budget cuts.
By 2011, the city had just three park rangers and then their positions were cut as part of the city’s Act 47 recommendations for the city’s financial recovery. Even with three rangers, they were spread thin trying to cover all the city’s parks and playgrounds.
For years after that, the city had no one exclusively assigned to patrolling the city’s parks.
Papenfuse brought back one park ranger in his 2015 budget and said at last week’s news conference he planned to double the current staffing with a second hire next year.
City Councilwoman Destini Hodges, chair of the parks and recreation committee, said she supported hiring more park rangers to improve safety.
The hiring of a second ranger is particularly important because the city’s current “lone” ranger doesn’t have anyone other than police to call for backup.
“Some problems and issues could be handled with two rangers and not escalated to police if someone could back her up,” Hodges said. “If we had at least one more person that would alleviate some of the pressure off of her.”
The rangers’ presence can bolster public safety, she said, and also perform a different type of work in the city’s parks, interacting with youths, that could help bridge the gap between the community and police.
The mayor’s announcement about the position provided a small glimpse into his proposed budget for 2017. Papenfuse is expected to present his full proposed budget at the end of November before council members.
Papenfuse has previously said he was planning “significant” proposals in next year’s budget to address the city’s violence and improve community relations with police.