Switching Gears

With the ever-changing financial climate in municipalities, funding challenges abound as parks and recreation professionals attempt to continue to offer programs and services at previous levels. Distant is the memory of the Giant Stride (a long-extinct piece of playground equipment), and one day, so will the memory of the social model way of operating.

Since the inception of the first municipal parks and recreation departments, the taxpayer has been intoxicated by the social model. Since taxes have funded these departments, the public has felt entitled to various services and programs. For the past 100 years, they were correct, as departments massaged this philosophy by funding programs and services almost totally. On the flip side, the business model seeks to bring in 100 percent of the total cost to operate a program or service (including personnel, materials, support staff, facility/equipment rental, etc.) plus another 10 to 20 percent for current and future maintenance costs.

Choose A Model

How are these models different? In the social model way of thinking, for example, a program’s viability and sustainability rest primarily on numbers. A program’s existence depends on whether there are enough participants or if the activity has enough to warrant reserving/holding a facility and staff. Under the business model, a parks and recreation professional will have figured out the cost analysis, the number of participants needed to fund the event and the target market. Whether or not a program has enough participants to hold an event or activity has less of a bearing on its sustainability than the amount of cost recovered.

Why the move to a business model? The reasons for this shift in philosophy vary from state to state. Some of the current catalysts are tax reform, the housing market decline, a sudden shift or re-allocation of resources, budget/revenue shortfalls and the mismanagement of municipal funds. Unfortunately, when county and city administrators are asked to find areas to trim the fat, parks and recreation departments are usually at the top of the list. This is because sewer, water and roads are a necessity, while after-school arts and crafts programs are not.

Balancing The Budget

To balance budgets, parks and recreation professionals have had to become increasingly resourceful. Additionally, they have been asked to make tough decisions as to which programs and services stay and which go. To reach financial expectations, the departments employ numerous strategies:

· Reduce operating hours of recreational facilities, or close them

· Lay off employees, or offer early retirement

· Create park/facility maintenance work teams/units

· Re-organize

· Contract out current services (i.e., mowing, irrigation, programming)

· Increase fees and charges

· Commercialize municipal facilities and parks

· Partner with other groups, businesses and organizations

There are more strategies than those listed, but these give the reader some insight as to what decisions lay before a department head during trying times. The real strength and leadership of a parks and recreation manager can be found and tested after these decisions have been made. Now, one must sell this (in most cases, unpopular) resolution not only to the county or city administrators above them, but to the staff and public. It is worth mentioning that the first players a manger needs to convince are staff. A well-informed, supportive staff can address concerns the public may have while focusing more on what it will gain.

Supporting The Numbers

The business model, with its revenue-producing, business-planning and statistical-analyzing milieu, can be for the parks and recreation professional as overwhelming as the Internet was and still is for my grandmother. That being said, it is not impossible to redirect an organization’s philosophy. To aid in this transition, several options and tools can be employed:

· Hire a person or group of people to facilitate this transition, develop a business plan, create partnerships, and stimulate revenue growth (a Revenue Specialist)

· Contract with a consulting firm that has had favorable outcomes with other municipalities

· Look to, and model after, other organizations that have successfully made the transition

· Attend conference lectures on the subject

· Build a team within the organization composed of players who have a desire and ability to effect change

Page 1 of 2 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Give Customers Satisfaction
  2. Signs Will Steer ‘Em Straight!
  3. Input Sought On Park Office Location
  4. Trends
  5. Seeking Knowledge And Experience In 2010
  • Columns
  • Departments