Whither Parks and Rec? Consultant suggests changes.

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 1, 2019 11:44 a.m.


The city of Fernandina Beach in September of 2018 hired PROS Consulting to assess the operation of the Parks and Recreation Department.  PROS Consulting met with all staff in the department who provided services and interviewed them as well as asked them to provide input on how the department operates, functions and delivers services to the community.  PROS staff also toured the system looking at the parks, facilities, beaches, cemetery and trails reviewing their quality as well as how they were managed and maintained. PROS also reviewed the past 15 years of the park and recreation system internal audit reports to gain a clear understanding of the operational practices that have occurred in the department over the years as well as how well the recommendations from the audits were implemented.  

Leon Younger presents Parks and Rec report to FBCC and city staff

Leon Younger, the president of PROS Consulting who conducted the study, kicked off the Fernandina Beach City Commission’s annual visioning session on January 29, 2019 with a report of his findings and recommendations.  He also provided the city with a draft action plan for implementation of changes.

Younger looked at organizational structure of the department, operations and utilization/cost questions.  He concluded that the split in the organizational structure, with parks under the jurisdiction of the Maintenance Department, led to difficulty in solving problems, which sometimes bounced from one department to another and back again.  He made several other observations about the current situation:

  • Little communication between divisions
  • Limited number of staff to cover wide variety of programs
  • Buildings are “tired”
  • Equipment is outdated and tired
  • There is no cost of service in place
  • Policy and procedures are not in place or known to employees
  • No Parks and Recreation business plan
  • No market strategy
  • No volunteer strategy
  • Limited performance measures

Younger also said, “It does not make sense to have two recreation centers in a city this size [approx. 12,500 residents].”

He suggested that while the city needs programming and facilities to meet the needs of residents (social management model), the city also needs to incorporate elements of a business management model, which is directed toward outcomes and cost-based decisions.

Younger said, “[Parks and Recreation] could be managed a lot tighter.”

Vice Mayor Len Kreger pointed out the problems caused by deferred maintenance on recreation facilities.  Commissioners discussed the age of the existing facilities, their overall cleanliness, and the fact that they are basic cinderblock structures.  The cost effectiveness of replacing aging structures instead of renovating existing was also briefly discussed.

Commissioners highlighted the problems associated with management when many of the programs and facilities are heavily used by non-residents.  Younger suggested strategies to deal with that situation, including allowing priority enrollment periods for city residents. The city already charges a 25 percent premium for non-residents to participate in cost-based programs and activities.

In discussing the best way to manage Bosque Bello Cemetery, Younger said that many city cemeteries are managed by a conservancy, as opposed to city staff.  He cited the importance of historic cemeteries in attracting visitors and as venues for various events that celebrate a community’s history.

Younger alluded to problems when certain organizations or segments of the population believe they have been given an entitlement to venues.  He asked, “Why should you subsidize the private sector?” He cited other communities that in addition to renting out space and facilities for moneymaking events, also recoup a percentage of the take to defray use and maintenance costs.

He added that the culture of the Parks and Recreation organization needs to be addressed.  Employees are under a lot of stress due to work overload.

Solutions to existing problems are caught up in the debate between what citizens want and what they or the city are willing to pay for.  Because city resources are limited, he recommended recruiting and training a volunteer corps to help city staff and to consider hiring a business development person.  Other communities that have a business development person on staff or contract have experienced a 7:1 return on investment — $7 in outside revenue for every $1 spent on salary.

He concluded his presentation by stating, “Everyone needs to know [which activities] are being publicly subsidized and why.”

The draft action plan that he referenced is being reviewed for possible adoption by City Manager Dale Martin and the Parks and Recreation Department Director Nan Voit.  Younger recommended ten strategies in the action plan, each of which is accompanied by suggested tactics, assignment of responsibility, timetable and performance measures:

  1. Make organizational redesign changes with staff level changes to increase customer access to facilities and programs 
  1. Enhance fiscal accountability for all programs by determining the true cost to provide the service (direct and indirect cost) and determine the classification of service as core essential, important and value- added cost of service 
  2. Increase use of Activity Based Costing for all services provided to determine a unit cost 
  3. Update existing policy and procedures management 
  4. Develop service levels and standards for programs, parks, maintenance, facility management and marketing services 
  5. Develop performance measures for all functions performed by the staff 
  6. Manage Workload of staff in a more functional manner 
  7. Organize staffing utilization and expectations effectively to achieve 70% of efficiency 
  8. Develop staff training by major job functions 
  9. Capacity management of existing programs and facilities 

Martin will be meeting with Voit and city Human Resources Director Robin Marley to review staffing and organizational recommendations.

Suanne Thamm 4Editor’s Note: Suanne Z. Thamm is a native of Chautauqua County, NY, who moved to Fernandina Beach from Alexandria,VA, in 1994. As a long time city resident and city watcher, she provides interesting insight into the many issues that impact our city. We are grateful for Suanne’s many contributions to the Fernandina Observer.

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3 Responses to Whither Parks and Rec? Consultant suggests changes.

  1. What’s missing from this report is that the island has a Parks and Recreation department that should serve the island, but it is reserved for City residents (county residents pay exorbitant fees to use the only recreation facilities on the island). There are no recreation facilities for county residents who live on the island.

    • Suanne Thamm says:

      Nancy, The CITY has a Parks and Recreation Department that is located on the island. It is solely supported by CITY taxpayers and users.

    • Teri Springer says:

      Then I guess the county needs to come up with the funding to build a facility for the use of non-city, island residents. Of course, this would mean a tax levee to pay for it, meaning even those who don’t use it will be paying for it. I don’t know why you think county residents who live outside the city should have equal access to facilities in the city they don’t pay taxes toward.

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