Friday, May 10, 2002

Job funding
dispute brews at
Waimea Falls

A preservation group wants the
park to pay for research positions

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

A nonprofit group devoted to the preservation of Waimea Valley says city-hired managers should pick up the cost of the staff that does the research and documentation of rare and endangered plants.

But the interim manager of the 1,875-acre Waimea Falls Park says plants are being adequately maintained by staff and that the park cannot afford to fund the staffers who do scientific research and documentation funded by the nonprofit Waimea Arboretum Foundation.

The city said it is not responsible for the cost because the previous owners stopped paying for the arboretum staff.

The foundation said yesterday it is being forced to lay off its remaining four paid employees at the park. Director David Orr, an administrative assistant and two part-timers have been responsible for caring for more than 6,000 types of plants, foundation officials said.

Funding for the arboretum employees, about $7,000 a month, has been through donations since a former park manager, then hired by a former owner of the park, declared the scientific botanical staff nonessential in 1996. Prior to that decision, the park's owners had paid for the staff, but the foundation took over raising money when the funding disappeared.

But the foundation said Waimea Management LLC, which has a contract with the city to manage the property until the end of the year with the help of a $100,000 subsidy, should either hire the arboretum employees or share its revenues to help their funding.

Orr, in a press release, said Waimea is acknowledged as one of the finest tropical gardens in the country and the home of rare plants not found elsewhere. "Right now, the nursery is filled with seedlings and propagules which need daily care, and many recently planted areas must be monitored regularly as well," he said. "All are now at great risk."

Some of the staff will stay on voluntarily, but he does not expect that arrangement to last long, Orr said.

Ray Greene, the manager of Waimea Management LLC, told the Star-Bulletin that the park cannot afford to hire the four foundation employees but continues to maintain a gardens superintendent with a staff of 8 1/2 positions.

"The park actually maintains the botanical garden, not the arboretum foundation," Greene said. Day-to-day operations such as watering and trimming of plants, weeding and fixing of irrigation lines is done by park employees.

Funding the foundation positions "is a function of being able to afford or not afford scientific research, and right now, in my opinion, we're taking care of the gardens at a maintenance level, but we are not in a position to conduct new scientific research," Greene said.

Deputy Managing Director Malcolm Tom said the city took over the park with "an understanding that all parties would maintain the status quo." He called it "unfortunate" that the foundation's donors have chosen to stop its funding.

The city is hoping to find a long-term manager by the end of summer.

Tom said the administration, meanwhile, is concerned that the Council may cut $200,000 for the park's operations next year.

The city took over the property in February through condemnation, but a court must still determine the purchase price. The Council has set aside $5 million.

E-mail to City Desk


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