Feature Article - February 2011
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Budget Defense Tactics

Use Business Sense & Strategic Partnerships to Survive

By Deborah L. Vence

Create Strategic Partnerships/Fundraising Efforts

In addition, parks and recreation departments need to look at strategic partnerships to allow the continuation of programs to the public, while reducing or shifting the costs on to others.

"Private nonprofit organizations, or … public partnerships, that's the strongest strategy in dealing with the crisis. From the small public park agency, up through big cities [and] up through large urban departments; create more partnerships with the private sector," Dolesh said.

For Metro Parks Tacoma, establishing agency partnerships is important in continuing the success of its parks and recreation system. It relies on partnerships with other public or government agencies, community and nonprofit organizations, and private corporations to achieve its vision, mission and goals.

Meanwhile, parks and recreation departments also can help prevent budget cuts through an aggressive fundraising component.

"There are organizations that have nonprofit fundraising arms," Wilson said. "We have a good product to sell and people are willing to support and contribute. Pursue partnerships and invest an effort in bringing on board volunteers, to apply good sound business principles, and look for every opportunity to be entrepreneurial."

As a result, Metro Parks Tacoma has been able to sustain its levels of service.

"In 2005, we passed a capital improvement bond issue that allowed us to upgrade our basic infrastructure throughout our park system," he said. "We delivered over the last five or six years. We delivered and followed through on the promises we made."

Set Up Long-Term Funding

To boot, establishing long-term funding mechanisms is another key way to help defend against budget cuts.

"Trends that go beyond the budget cutting and the internal consolidation is how to create fundable, sustainable, dedicated funds," Dolesh said, adding that the state of Iowa just passed a law this year to allow a portion of any fee increase to be dedicated to conservation.

"[The idea] is to have secure and sustainable long-term funding mechanisms in place," Dolesh said. "If primary funding mechanisms for public parks are dependent on general fund revenues, when they decline, discretionary spending has to be cut. They all rely on balanced budgets, and all have to balance within a one-year cycle."

The bottom line is, "When we look at communities that take pride in their quality of life, parks and recreation are the top three or four best assets. Businesses—in making relocation decisions—[consider parks and recreation] as one of the top reasons to relocate to another city," he said, adding that when people know that their tax dollars are largely going to support public lands, they often show their support.