In the "chargeback" discussion (Parks and Rec compensating the JCMO General Fund for internal services like finances, legal and personnel) some are saying that Parks should be "treated the same" as other city departments. That quick response misses too many nuances. Even aside from what it means for kids.
Each fund/department has different economics and different purposes. Chargebacks for Parks was designed to chip in a little for administrative services and help with the general fund when parks received an independent revenue source via the dedicated sales tax. How much to charge is actually not very scientific, or at least no one should pretend so. It's more policy than math. It's like when we reduced the CIP level for parks from 20% to 10%. We tried to keep track of the goal -- to fund a great parks and recreation system endorsed by the voters -- while being fiscally responsible and broad minded about other needs. A couple of thoughts:
1. "Enterprise" Funds. The sewer and parking funds are not good comparisons since those are bonded endeavors, with the rates being set by the economics of bonds sold to investors. The administrative load in those funds was factored in and deducted from the amount of net revenue available to pay back the bonds. Those numbers were included in the public offering and are pretty much set in stone since they were part of the rate design approved by voters. While the chargebacks will certainly have some effect on parking and sewer services, the effects are long term and hard to predict. Day to day service is not impacted. You will only know what the effect is when, decades later, you learn that you have money for only two lift stations instead of three; or maybe you have only $3.5 million in the parking reserve fund instead of $3.8 million. Most people could care less. The toilets flush and the parking lots get new asphalt. Life goes on.
2. Other departments. The fallacy of treating all departments the same becomes apparent if the comparisons are complete. Parks derives a large part of its budget from user fees. If we truly want to "treat all departments the same," we would have "toll streets" and the fire and police departments would charge for each service call. Public works and Public Safety are (with some limited exceptions) completely subsidized with no user contributions. Citizens pay for these services through community taxes and not through user fees.
3. Economic Development. Refer to "Objective 6" of the most recent Economic Development Strategic Plan. Parks has a significant role in this thoughtful study. Money retained by Parks (and not seized through an increased chargeback) enhances Parks' capacity to implement these recommendations. Everybody talks about economic development but no one reads The Plan. Parks provides the infrastructure for the "regional sports tourism" that some now endorse. You cannot cut Parks' budget and at the same time talk about how important regional sports is for economic development.
4. Conclusion. Instead of the glib argument that parks should be "treated the same as all departments," the more appropriate analysis should be:
a. Does the city council believe the current level of Parks and Rec services being made available to the public is appropriate, or should it be reduced?
b. Does the city council believe that parks user fees are appropriate, or should they be increased?
c. Since increasing the chargeback will necessarily cause either (a) services to decrease or (b) user fees to increase, or both, what is the appropriate chargeback amount, taking all factors into consideration? The available funds are finite. The dollars have to come from somewhere.
d. What role does Parks play in economic development and are we ready to put money toward that effort?
e. There is nothing wrong with using a different formula for parks since it is unique in so many respects. Parks is different from enterprise funds like parking and sewer; and different from general fund departments like public safety and public works. It has economic development potential. Exercise good judgment and stewardship. Refrain from easy formulas.