A Strategic Plan at the Core of Public Recreation Financial Management: A Case Study of Gwinnett County, Georgia
Keywords:Public sector finance, strategic plan, management
Many public sector park and recreation departments are experiencing financial difficulties as states, counties, and municipalities face severe revenue shortages as a direct result from a struggling economy. This trend may result in decreased operating and capital budgets, decreased or eliminated grant monies, and/or frozen vacant staff positions. This crisis is not entirely unfamiliar for many public recreation agencies who over the years have grown accustomed to responding to high expectations from the public for quality facilities and services within significant budget constraints.
Unfortunately, many agencies may have overextended themselves in the 1990’s by acquiring and developing recreation facilities such as parklands, fitness centers, and aquatics complexes without anticipating potential negative financial conditions. This struggle with operating costs may threaten the agencies’ ability to sustain these facilities, as well as the programs that have been implemented and whose delivery is dependent upon the utilization of such facilities. This dilemma may be the result of poor capital planning, inaccurate operating and/or maintenance planning. As a result, some multi-million dollar recreation facilities are poorly maintained, under-utilized, and in extreme cases, abandoned. Fortunately, there are public recreation agencies who have managed to maintain financial health while continuing to improve and expand facilities and services. This financial health is accomplished by piecing together an intricate puzzle consisting of various financial management practices, while maintaining public support through the adoption and continuously updating of a recreation and park comprehensive strategic plan.
To further complicate the situation, some communities’ efforts to generate revenues through property tax increases, establishment of special taxes, and increased fees and charges have been met with stiff resistance from the public. Agency efforts to reduce operating costs through the reduction of operating hours, less frequent maintenance scheduling, and the purchasing of lower quality supplies and equipment are also publicly frowned upon. Fortunately, there are public recreation agencies who have managed to maintain financial health while continuing to improve and expand facilities and services. This financial health is accomplished by piecing together an intricate puzzle consisting of various financial manage ment practices while maintaining public support through the adoption and continuously updating of a recreation and park strategic plan.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the finance system and structure of a county park and recreation department, Gwinnett County, Georgia, and to examine potential explanations for its financial health and stability by identifying unique management practices and philosophies, that when combined, contribute significantly to positive agency outcomes. Gwinnett County was chosen for examination because of its dedication to utilizing sophisticated and diverse methods of financing its recreation and park facilities and programs. A history of Gwinnett County recreation finance will be presented along with revenue sources, budget structure, and existing partnerships, while emphasizing the relationship between finance and a current recreation and park comprehensive strategic plan.
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