Feature Article - August 2016
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Show Me the Money

Finding New Budget Strategies

By Deborah L. Vence

More recreation facilities are finding better ways to save money and make their budgets work by means of energy conservation and partnerships.

"There are a number of ways to economize and make the most of a tight budget," said Adrian Benepe, senior vice president and director of city park development for The Trust for Public Land in New York.

So, what are some specific strategies that work best to help make budgets more efficient?

Make Volume Purchases

If parks and facilities have to manage multiple locations, in particular, it's even more important that they find ways to cut back costs.

One way to streamline the budget is through centralized purchasing, in terms of leveraging buying power, noted Denise Lam, senior vice president of integrated business systems for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago.

Centralized purchasing involves making volume purchases to get better prices.

"Any facility in parks and recreation that have not have participated in a GPO (group purchasing organization) … that's very highly recommended for them to be a part of," she said. "Many government agencies participate in different purchasing organizations. It allows [organizations] to have a purchasing of the same goods, but with the purchasing power, we can get it in at the lower price."

The challenge, however, is that you lose flexibility in having to buy the same brands or similar products.

"One of the things that's important is [knowing] your current purchasing habits and what some of your own organizational philosophies are," Lam noted.

She also stressed that it's important to understand the procure-to-pay process, which involves requesting, purchasing, receiving, paying for and accounting for goods and services.

"Do you have a robust procure-to-pay purchase process? Who can purchase what and in what capacity? If I have a pool and I have aquatics managers or athletic managers, what can they buy? Who needs to approve it, and how [can you] relate that into your budget?" she said.

"Especially in this environment or as an organization, understand where you are at … streamline and save money," she added.

Save Energy

Conserving energy is another useful way to streamline operations.

"It's important that you study your energy utilization," Lam said.

For example, she said the rates for electricity in the Midwest were favorable at the end of 2015, and pointed out that you can save money by locking into a certain rate. "We studied our utilization, studied the rate and looked at it in three-year increments," she noted. In the past three years, you can go month by month and look at how the rate has changed.

Utility companies usually know every region and know that they are probably different. You can look into utilizations and projects in that region and how energy consumptions will be, Lam suggested.

The Y also tries to manage its energy for all of its facilities by testing their consumption.

"We tell our facilities to turn off the lights. We adjust our temperatures, by adjusting the heat and turning it down a little bit, or, [in] areas we're not using, not using energy as freely," she noted.

As a result, three of 23 Y centers saved thousands of dollars. "They predicted we were going to be using less energy. We saved money," she said.

Meanwhile, Benepe added that you can save a lot of energy through energy-efficient lighting and the use of solar power.

"That's one of the ways that many agencies are doing capital upgrades to make them more efficient," he said.

"You can save precious expenses in the budget. That's always the pressure point. For park agencies, it is the expense budget," he noted, adding that state and local governments often have incentives for using solar power.