Our View: ‘Eye-opener’
Posted: December 5, 2012
For those who may think the city’s proposal to establish a new fee schedule for the use of Winchester parks represents a bolt from the blue, such a contention could not be further from the truth. The initial seeds were sown six years ago.
As Brad Veach, Winchester’s Parks and Recreation director told us Monday, in 2006 city government started a new work-order system, which his department eagerly “embraced.”
“We were trying to figure out what things were costing us, get true data,” Mr. Veach said. “Collecting data [under this system] gave us a better idea how we were spending money, and on whom.”
“Tweaks” took place over time, the biggest perhaps coming in 2008 when Parks & Rec went to the RecTrac computer program, which allowed the department to track costs under the work-order system down to the hour.
Come 2010, such data collection led to a “partnership policy” between the city and the myriad nonprofit users of Winchester’s Parks & Rec facilities. For the first time, Mr. Veach said, the city charged these groups — Winchester Baseball, Winchester Swim Team, and Blue Ridge Youth Soccer as well as BMX and horseshoes enthusiasts — a fee to use the parks.
Meanwhile, the data kept rolling in and, in Mr. Veach’s words, proved “an eye-opener.” Even with the “partnership policy” in place, the numbers showed the extent to which city residents were subsidizing park use for the many out-of-towners — from Frederick, Clarke, and Shenandoah counties and even from West Virginia — who come to Winchester to partake of its centralized, easily accessible programs.
The eye-popping figures: The city is spending more than $2.5 million annually on Parks & Rec, but recovering but $800,000 in fees. The cost per capita: $96 a resident — high when one considers that Frederick County expends but a tad more than $50 per capita.
As City Council President Jeff Buettner intimated last week, a goodly number of folks — none of them city taxpayers — were getting a “sweetheart deal” on Winchester’s dime.
In other words, the data suggested something needed to be done. Or as City Manager Dale Iman said at that same council meeting, “It seems like we have a problem here that we know the answer to.”
As beneficial as the “partnership policy” may have proven, Winchester needed a more clear-cut formula, a standard, by which to recover some of its subsidy costs. Such a standard would, at the same time, Mr. Veach said, institute “better business practices” that would promote the greater “sustainability” of the Parks & Rec program.
In short, the city needed a heightened sense of certainty — so much so, said Mr. Veach, that it would no longer have to “beg, borrow, and deal” when, for example, it wished to renovate or replace existing facilities, like ballparks.
That translates, essentially, to a more ambitious fee schedule for those nonprofit users of the parks. So earlier this year, city staff and representatives of the Parks & Rec advisory board began exploring options toward such an end.
“Data-driven” options, to be sure.
On Thursday: Four “options” developed; City Council moves one forward.