AZTEC — Commissioners will meet tonight to decide whether to spend money that would employ local youth and beautify the city at the same time.

They can make it official by agreeing to allocate slightly more than $280,000 for supplies, equipment, training costs and wages for a coordinator to oversee youth workers.

The funding would come from general and capital improvement budgets spread over two fiscal years.

The city already has budgeted money for the project and it is expected to be approved.

And the city was recently awarded just over $100,000 by the state's Youth Conservation Corps program to pay for the wages of local youth this summer.

A panel comprising various city departments, including parks and recreation and human resources, will soon begin taking applications, interviewing candidates and hiring approximately 20 young people.

Successful candidates will work five days per week this summer on various improvements at Riverside Park and on murals along the Animas River.

"The YCC workers are treated just like any other city employee," said Kathy Lamb, finance director. "They all go through a standard hiring process and throughout the summer will be evaluated both by the city and the YCC."

Projects Manager Edward Kotyk takes questions from the YCC coordinator and plans the next summer's projects for the group each August. He also discusses and makes recommendations on mural designs created by Aztec High School students.

"This will be our 10th year working with YCC kids, and each year they get better and better," Kotyk said. "It's really a beneficial program and we've had an excellent group of kids do fantastic work."

Last summer, YCC crews did landscaping and brickwork around the municipal complex and nearby medians, plus the river mural.

Located under the old highway (also called the "money-saving bridge"), the mosaic-style mural begun last summer can seen by turning south into the parking lot near Finish Line Graphics west of the bridge and walking down the steps to the river trail. The mural is on the left.

This year, while one crew will work with brushes and paint along the river to continue last summer's mural and begin another on a nearby pylon, two other crews will work on the northern half of Riverside Park to replace a crumbling asphalt basketball court with two new concrete courts, and add two new volleyball courts and two horseshoe pits.

They will also replace much of the fencing at the park, add bike racks, increase river access points and cut some parking to add green space around the courts, Kotyk said.

Part of the state's Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, YCC began over 20 years ago to provide a process to employ young people in public projects. Participants pick up vital job skills, work ethics, teamwork as well as practice self-discipline and team work.

Crew members can be as young as 14 and as old as 25 to qualify for the summertime program. The state grant funding pays most teen workers the minimum wage of $7.50 per hour with a little more for crew leader positions.

Consideration for more pay is given — but not guaranteed — if the youth has worked for the city in the YCC program before and has received positive work evaluations. Returning candidates still must complete the application and interview process, Lamb said.

Many of those involved in the YCC return year after year and can earn scholarship money for college after four consecutive years in the program.

"The goal of the city's agreement with the state program is to give the youth experience of a lifetime," Lamb said. "Their work will help them build skills and work training that will provide them benefits throughout their lives."

For more information on YCC jobs with the city, go to www.aztecnm.gov/employment/opportunities.htm.

James Fenton can be reached at jfenton@daily-times.com; 564-4621. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/fentondt.