Trends in Local Park and Recreation Department Finances and Staffing from 1964-65 to 1999-2000


  • John L. Crompton
  • Andrew T. Kaczynski


local government, parks and recreation, revenue, expenditures, employment


The comprehensive data set used in this paper was derived from local government entities in the U.S. for the period 1964-65 to 1999-2000. These data are collected by the Census Bureau from all 87,000 units of local government in years ending in “2” or “7”. In the non-census years the data are collected from a survey of approximately 13,000 non-school local governments, selected by a size-based sampling procedure.Self-generated revenues increased substantially over this period and by the end of it approximately one out of every three operating dollars allocated for parks and recreation came from user sources. Analysis of total local government expenditures on parks and recreation using constant, adjusted dollars revealed that there was an average annual decrease in the 1976-77 to 1985-86 period of $13 million. This was the era in which the tax limitation movement peaked and it was subject to the severe economic recession in the early 1980s. In contrast, increases in annual expenditures in the most recent 1994-95 to 1999-2000 era averaged $595 million. This level of expenditure was unprecedented, suggesting that in the future when these data are reviewed from an historical perspective, this period may be considered to be the field’s “golden era”. Typically, approximately onequarter of annual budgets were for capital projects and these increased in constant, adjusted dollars by 58% between 1993-94 and 1999-2000. In 1999-2000, $5.8 billion in actual dollars was invested in capital projects in parks and recreation by local governments. It was estimated that capital investment in the 1964-65 to 1999-2000 period exceeded $70 billion (adjusted 1990 dollars), while tax support for operating expenses over the same period increased by less than 5%.Per capita expenditures on local parks and recreation averaged $74.58 in the U.S. in 1999-2000, of which $20.87 was invested in capital projects and $53.72 was for operating expenses. These national averages obscured an extraordinary range of differences among the states where total per capita expenditures ranged from $20.58 in Vermont to $179.21 in North Dakota. The number of full-time employees in the field hired by local entities was 145,000 in 1977-78 and 142,000 in 1996-97. In the last three years of the 1990s, it increased to 153,000. During this period, part-time employees increased from 26,000 to 172,000. On average, it was estimated that approximately one full-time staff member has been hired for each $9 million of capital investment in the 1978-79 to 1999-2000 period. During this same period, it was estimated that approximately 94,000 full and part-time positions had been contracted out to the private sector to do work that was previously done by public sector employees.