Originally Published: February 26, 2018 6:05 a.m.
Wielding rakes and trash bags, the crew of four orange-vested workers spread out in the wash along Virginia Street near downtown Prescott.
Their mission: To remove the weeds and trash that clogged the tree-lined wash. In the space of a few hours, the weeds and trash were gone, bagged up and hauled away.
The task was just one example of the projects taken on by an ever changing crew of community service workers who are required by the courts to work in the City of Prescott’s Community Restitution Program.
For nearly 10,000 hours a year, they take to the city’s streets and parks to deal with a wide variety of everyday nuisances, such as fallen leaves, unsightly trash, and graffiti.
Recreation Services Director Joe Baynes, whose department administers the program, says community restitution workers put in about 9,300 hours of work on city jobs in 2017.
In addition, workers who were unable to do the physically taxing city jobs did another 2,850 hours for local non-profit organizations.
Based on the minimum wage of $10.50 per hour, Baynes estimates the value of the restitution program to the community at nearly $130,000.
To duplicate those hours, he said, the city would have to add about four and a half new full-time staff positions.
Typically, the program puts people to work who have been sentenced to community service for misdemeanor violations, such as driving while under the influence, shoplifting, and traffic infractions.
Steven Reasoner, who was finishing up his eight days of community service recently, said the work experience has been positive.
“It’s been really good,” Reasoner said, as he raked up weeds from the wash. “I’ve worked at the airport, cleaned up some homeless camps, and done a little landscaping.”
In fact, Reasoner said he planned to offer to work more hours with the crew to help cover fines he received.
Larry Stephens, a city employee who supervises the crew, said most of the crewmembers are willing to work without complaint.
Over the years of supervising the crew, Stephens said, “I’ve only had a few problems.”
Part of that is likely due to the atmosphere that Stephens and fellow city employee Daniel Tote strive to create on the job site. Both work alongside the community service workers at whatever task is at hand.
“We’re not the typical ‘chain gang,” Stephens said. “We’re here to give them a rewarding experience.” He added that the completed jobs tend to give the crew members “a nice sense of accomplishment.”
Along with maintenance work, the crew also helps to build new city trails. Saturdays are usually dedicated to clearing brush from the trail bed to make way for the Over the Hill Gang volunteers, who do the finishing work.
One of Stephens’ favorite outcomes is when a community service worker tells him, “I’m going to bring my family to this trail” – a comment that he sees that as a sign of pride in a job well done.
In the midst of recession-related budget cuts in 2012, the city considered elimination of its Community Restitution Program, which was then administered through the police department.
Baynes said he was concerned about that move and pushed to keep the program. Ultimately, it was moved to his department, where it has been a boon to community recreation.
Along with the rough clearing for new recreational trails, the crew also regularly does recreation-related jobs such as removal of weeds at the municipal Antelope Hills Golf Course, litter removal along the downtown Greenways Trails, and trimming of bushes and trees at Pioneer Park.
But Baynes and others emphasize that recreation is not the only department to benefit; nearly every city department has seen the effects from the community service workers.
In fact, throughout 2017, the crews worked virtually all over town, removing graffiti, maintaining planter boxes, and shoveling gravel.
The program’s work schedule for 2017 shows that the crew also regularly removes weeds at the airport, cleans up the city’s water wellfield in Chino Valley, and empties trash barrels and cleans the barns at the Prescott Rodeo Grounds.
Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or email@example.com.