Preserving Parks

In this tough economy, budgets for ball fields are being squeezed like every other area of parks and recreation. Because of this stress and an immediate need to make changes, parks departments are devising clever ways to cut costs while sustaining high maintenance standards for the community.

In Tucson, Ariz., the parks and recreation department lost 10 percent of its budget in the last two years with more cuts coming. In Bloomington, Ind., budget challenges started five years ago. The department first saw a 20-percent cut after eight years of sound budgeting. The limited funds began to shift from parks to other city departments.

Trimming Personnel

Although it’s a move most departments don’t want to make, sometimes the best thing to do is trim personnel. In Tucson, the department is accomplishing this by leaving positions of retirees unfilled. In Bloomington, the department has stopped hiring seasonal help.

“We’re conscientious of our use of staff,” says Ron Odell, Southwest District Superintendent in Tucson. “As we get smaller with personnel, we’re getting more strategic in our use.”

One way to use employees more efficiently is to watch for usage trends at parks.

In Tucson, for example, parks with shaded areas have a lot of traffic, so staff is directed to these parks during weekends and Mondays to clean up litter and the restrooms. During the weekdays, the staff maintains other parks.

The Bloomington Parks Department uses a divide-and-conquer strategy to manage its maintenance task list, where zones identify parks within close proximity to each other, usually within walking distance.

This new practice has helped maximize not only time, but equipment availability because workers report directly to their zones where equipment is already stored. This saves on transportation time, fuel and productivity.

“We have 40-plus sites, and by being able to compile some into zones, those locations are becoming very productive,” says Dave Williams, Operations Director in Bloomington. Although not all of the city’s sites are contained within a zone, grouping some together has helped with overall productivity.


Although equipment consumes a large part of the financial pie, replacing worn-out or irreparable machines on a limited budget may not always be possible.

“In Tucson, we’re really in such a state with our equipment that we can’t replace the fleet,” says Odell. Workers are forced to use preventative maintenance on existing equipment. “We do everything we can to make it go longer,” he says. From weed whackers to riding mowers, preventative maintenance, such as scheduling oil changes and swapping out filters, is followed precisely to extend the life of equipment.

Another option to increase the longevity of equipment is to share it between city and county systems.

In other cases, the equipment won’t be able to cover as much ground, and the only other option is to scale back the amount of use on each machine.

“We dialed back the amount of acres we would maintain,” says Williams. “We put a cap on the amount of mowing we would do. We don’t mow as much or as frequently.”

He added the department is doing a trial of using turf grass as a replacement for traditionally seeded grass to reduce mowing.

Outsourcing Jobs

With staff cuts and the inability to keep up with equipment, another option to provide the best service is to outsource large jobs. Bloomington has done this to help with its groundskeeping.

“We have incorporated more contractual services in our maintenance plan,” says Mick Renneisen, Parks Director in Bloomington. “The same work can be done more cheaply and more efficiently by contracting.”

For jobs that require specialized equipment, outsourcing to a company that already houses the equipment can come in handy.

Looking For Cheaper Alternatives

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