Comparing Apples To Grapes

It really irritates me when I hear people compare municipal recreation departments to commercial businesses. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times regarding government operations, especially during the past two or three years of financial crisis: “If this was a business you’d never survive!”

Is comparing public and private services like comparing apples to grapes?

I don’t think one can make an apples-to- apples comparison because they serve such vastly different purposes. Government recreation exists to serve the needs of taxpaying citizens with wholesome, affordable programs and activities; business exists to sell customers something they may or may not need or want at a price they may or may not be able to afford.

The key words here are “citizens” and “customers.”

Public administrators serve citizens who pay taxes with the expectation of service–I suppose you could say their taxes are their “membership cards.” Of all the other government services, I think this is especially true for parks and recreation departments.

We will never make a profit; it’s just not how we’re built.

While we may engage in some similar activities as business, such as marketing, we do it with a totally different intent. We can generate revenue to help offset costs, but can someone show me a recreation department that’s covering or exceeding its costs with revenue?

I don’t think it exists!

If I am wrong, I’d love to hear about it. I am always open to learning new things. Anybody out there know of a municipal or county recreation department that’s breaking even? I’d like to know how they do it.

Chime in, give your opinion, blow off a little steam, cut loose–foot loose … oops, showing my 1970s era again … anyway, what do you think? Can you make a fair comparison between public recreation and commercial business?

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail

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4 comments on “Comparing Apples To Grapes

  1. Bryan Kellar on said:

    If state and local parks were a profitable business, Haliburton would be in the park business!

  2. Karen Emery on said:

    Public Recreation, like Public Schools, purpose is to provide access to all people, regardless of income, as it’s paid for by everyone, not just users of service. If charges were made to pay for all operatinal costs, it would be private recreation which serves those who choose to use and can afford to pay. Public Recreation is one of the most effective ways to keep all people healthy, engaged and a part of community.

  3. T. Hale on said:

    It’s refreshing to hear this attitude during the number crunching days we call “Budget Time!” We have to run our district like a business because we can’t LOSE money. It’s not, however, a for profit organization. We want to make enough money to provide for anyone who walks in the door and maintain the property and assets that we have. Making a profit has never been a problem here at our district!
    Thanks for the reminder that we are the “Apples” of someones eye!

    • Randy Gaddo on said:

      Mr. or Ms. T. Hale (not sure what the T. stands for:-) From your comment I am assuming you are in a park district, which is run by a commission or authority, correct? Is the commission or authority an integral part of the local government, like a component unit, or is it a totally separate government body?
      I have further questions depending on your answer…thanks

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