Maintaining parks and recreation services
Aside from cutting costs, the only other way to combat a budget shortfall is to increase revenue. Some parks and recreation departments, for the first time, have begun looking for nontraditional ways to build departmental revenue. Chesterfield County has increased fees for some programs and has started charging for things that used to be free. For instance, the department offers a lecture series about local hikes and outdoor activities, and those lectures used to be open to local residents at no charge. Since the department started charging an admission fee, attendance actually has increased. “Some things just seem more valuable if you have to pay for them,” Askin says.
Additionally, Askin and his team are working with Sports Backers, a nonprofit organizer, to develop sports tourism in his county. “We have drawn some tournaments to our facilities, including soccer, field hockey and lacrosse, and we’re keeping track of how much revenue they bring to the county,” Askin says. “In the past year, we have increased revenue from sports tourism by about 16 percent, from $12 million to $15 million.”
While economists say the U.S. economy is rebounding, parks officials cannot expect a return to hefty budgets any time soon. Lean management and creative thinking has become the new normal. “With the economy we live in today, you are always going to have to come up with new, innovative ideas to keep up with the demand,” Simpson says. “The citizens are always going to want bigger and better facilities, and we are going to have to figure out a way to build and maintain those facilities with very limited funds. You must get ahead of the game and stay ahead by thinking outside of the box and using technology to make your workforce a more productive one.”
Nancy Mann Jackson is a Huntsville, Ala.-based freelance writer.