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Puyallup Council Debates Cost and Return of Community Recreation Programs

Puyallup’s interim city manager has proposed changes within Parks and Recreation that would cut back on free community events with no financial return.

Proposed organizational changes within Puyallup’s Parks and Recreation department packed City Hall on Friday afternoon with concerned citizens wondering the fate of beloved community programs.

Interim city administrator Bill McDonald has asked the city to examine ways for the Parks and Recreation department to be more efficient—and lucrative.

“There are options available to run recreation programs which do not have such a high personnel component,” McDonald said in a Nov. 17 memo to the mayor and council. (We've attached his memo to this article). “Programs that can cover a high percentage or all of their operating cost should rise to the top. Programs that are high overhead with little cost recovery should be pruned.”

This issue addresses the approved $236,000 in cuts to the Parks and Recreation department in the 2013 budget, plus vacant staff positions not expected to be filled soon. Budget constraints leave little wiggle room for community events with large overhead and small payout, like the Concert in the Park series and haunted hayride event.

Councilmember Kent Boyle called cuts to the Parks programs “the most horrifying thing in the budget” and asked the city to explore private sponsorships for popular events.

“These events relate back to quality of life and benefit the community,” said Boyle. “We’ve been sitting on a fat hog here and times have changed. We need to work much harder to obtain that extra community involvement.”

In the interim, Puyallup's recreation manager has been advised by McDonald to focus on just the program menu, which will be offered with a priority on decreasing staff overhead.

McDonald’s memo also addressed property and facility management, with more analysis needed to make city-run buildings like Memorial Center and Pioneer Park Pavilion more successful.

“I question why the city is running a recreation facility which is allegedly deteriorating and competes with the private sector, maintaining a Memorial Center which sits empty most of the time, operating an extremely expensive senior center location, and operating a Pavilion which does not have a business model which allows it to at least break even,” said McDonald.

He also suggests that the positions of Recreation Manager and Pavilion Manager remain open and events run with a leaner staff—a concept mirrored across other departments with management and staff vacancies. In the interim, McDonald said he has started to meet with Parks and Recreation department managers every week to find ways to continue working efficiently as a smaller department.

 “I think we can definitely find more staff efficiencies [in our Parks department] but I want to find ways to build better programs and services – not just finding efficiencies to shrink them,” said councilmember John Palmer.

How do you feel about potential cuts to Puyallup's Parks and Recreation programs? Tell us in the comments.

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