The Thrill of Victory

You need to be able to track and report incoming versus outgoing expenses (staff, facilities, rentals, and so on) to sustain programming. This, of course, is based on the general philosophy of the department — which programs need to be profitable, which can be break-even and which will operate at a loss (programs for disadvantaged youth, for instance).

Web Connection

For its big summer registration push, New Britain offers downloadable applications on its Web site that can be filled out and mailed in with a check. Forms are also available through the schools, churches, local stores and other public outlets.

“We have an application form on the Web site that answers the questions the way computer asks us in the office. They download it at their house, fill it in and send in the check. The front office fills in the information step by step — it’s fast because it’s all there,” says DeMaio.

“We used to have the cattle lines — it was miserable and uncomfortable. Those days are gone. It’s all about being customer friendly.”

For the more popular programs, waiting lists are common. DeMaio says this system makes the first-come, first-served scenario better than being first in a long line — it’s based on postmark.

“For the most part, we’ll take their check, put it on a waiting list, and pump out a receipt that says you’re on a waiting list, and will be called as space becomes available. It has a dotted, perforated line — we fold it in half, stick it in a window envelope and it’s on its way. We’ll have 20 work stations going manned by high-school and college kids just registering people for summer programs.”

New Britain gets the word out through the Web site, school flyers (sending out about 15,000 brochures through that outlet alone), newspapers, radio, access TV and any other information provider it can find.

DeMaio says the Web site features periodic contests to keep people coming back and informed about upcoming registration opportunities, special events and programming.

For example, the question of the day might be, “Which park has the Israel Putnam stone?” Correct entries receive some kind of prize, like a Benefits are Endless (the department’s tagline) coffee mug or t-shirt.

“With the economy the way it is, people don’t have the resources to go out traveling, so we’re finding that they’re using our programs and park system much more than they ever have. Because tax dollars are shrinking we’re trying to make programs self-sustaining through fees and charges, and people seem to be okay with that,” says DeMaio.

“There are obviously low-income and disadvantaged children as well, so we try very hard to have a pot of scholarship money from civic groups and corporations that like to donate. We use that money to help them pay their expenses.”

Model City

In Henderson, Nev., the parks and recreation department is in the process of retooling its registration and on-line access. This requires meticulous coordination between the technology department and parks and recreation.

Henderson has set up an excellent working model that ensures relatively smooth transitions. It’s a management philosophy that can be replicated for almost any situation.

“The Technical Services Group of the Department of Parks and Recreation is a centralized group that has a big picture of all the activities and the whole process. Any changes in the process tend to get driven from this group, which is very effective in communicating changes to the process because they have to keep those processes going,” says Jennifer Rosenbusch, IT senior systems support analyst for Henderson.

“Kristen Grega (a city recreation leader) works in this group. They have hands-on ability to show me what their processes are and the problems they’re having. It makes it a great structure, because they have the business knowledge and some of the technical knowledge and are good interpreters between themselves and IT. That’s a very critical part of the process.”

Communication between IT and parks and recreation is facilitated through a committee composed of a couple of recreation center coordinators, representatives from the technical area within parks and recreation (like Grega) and Rosenbusch.

Step at a Time

Currently, all programming is viewable on-line. Some of the programming will be available for registration on-line. The key qualifier is some.

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