BREC reviewing fees charged for parks programs, services

East Baton Rouge parks system officials are reviewing the amount residents are charged for programs and services as they seek to cover more costs with self-generated revenues.

BREC employees are meeting this week with a private consultant who is viewed as an expert in “cost-recovery” — figuring out what parks offerings are worth to the community.

“We know we have to do some things differently,” BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said. “We have to figure out how to utilize our money in the best way. This will help us do that.”

Jamie Sabbach, of Colorado-based 110 Percent Consulting, told BREC commissioners at a meeting Thursday that a workshop she’s conducting Friday for BREC staff will highlight the ongoing shift in how parks departments around the country fund their operations.

She said park systems face balancing the quality of life benefits of free or heavily subsidized offerings with the need to ask visitors to shell out more money to keep some things sustainable.

“We have more competition than ever before,” Sabbach said, noting that private gyms, attractions and services are competition, as well as other offerings within BREC. “We have all kinds of entities within our systems that are competing.”

She said her goal is to help BREC make more informed decisions about the prices it charges.

“We’ve been arbitrary in determining pricing,” McKnight said. “With this, we’ll begin to really know what we’re charging people and why we’re charging people.”

About 75 percent of BREC’s budget comes from a dedicated property tax approved by voters. Another 4 percent comes from grants and other outside sources. That leaves 21 percent as self-generated revenues from what BREC charges for admission to the zoo, water park and other attractions, as well as what it charges for various services, such as camps or educational courses.

McKnight repeatedly has said she would like to get that 21 percent higher.

Sabbach, who has worked in parks and recreation for more than 26 years, said she thinks it’s one of the more difficult government budgets to handle, pitting things like water parks against programs for low-income children.

Part of her workshop also is intended to help BREC staff determine services that are a waste of resources.

“You have to ask, ‘Why do we keep doing this when we could better utilize those resources?’ ” she said.

Commissioner John Taylor noted that discontinuing services can be politically dicey, while Commissioner Lloyd Benson stressed the need for involving the community.

BREC is winding down a strategic planning process required every 10 years for accreditation. Part of that has included public feedback on how popular parks offerings are in the community.

McKnight said the cost-recovery efforts will feed into an overall plan for BREC’s future.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow our City Hall blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz .