In what was a ‘pre-budget discussion’ according to the agenda, the Scarsdale Village Council discussed recreation fees and charges during a public work session on Tuesday, September 20.
Superintendent of Parks, Recreation and Conservation (PRC) Brian Gray provided a detailed report on the status of Scarsdale’s current fee structures and the decision-making behind it, in addition to comparisons of some programs, fees and costs. for similar and neighboring towns. The goal, he said, was to help the village establish a policy that relates to the “desired percentage return on expenditures per fiscal year” because the recreation department generates revenue year-round.
“Each year, the Department of PRC proposes fees for the following year after a comprehensive evaluation of each program we offer,” Gray said. “Traditionally, I present my fees and expenses to the village council in January. In recent budget cycles, conversations have taken place with the village council about the desired rate of return on spending and how fee increases are determined, as these two topics go hand in hand. During conversations last January, it was decided that a meeting would be held to discuss the above in order to reach a direction determination before I begin my budget process.
Options for the village council to consider included:
- · Increase the fees based on the increase in the consumer price index of the previous year;
- · Standard increase at all levels on a fixed percentage;
- · Review each program offered and propose a fee increase based on discussions between staff and the contractor. (This is the proposed recommendation.)
Parks, recreation and conservation make up 5% of the village’s total annual budget, with 65% of its costs covered by revenue from program fees and permits. The two main parts of the PRC budget that generate little or no revenue are administration (no revenue, $705,967 expenses) and facilities/parks ($85,000 revenue, $612,217 expenses). When these are removed from the other major aspects of departmental revenue and expenditure, the 65% increases dramatically to 97% ($2,256,710 revenue, $2,324,430 expense):
- 105% return youth camps ($921,740 revenue, $880,950 expenses);
- Weinberg Nature Center 90% return ($157,000 revenue, $173,371 expense);
- ·Return of 104% on leisure (income of $659,435, expenses of $633,589);
- ·Tennis returned 90% (income $513,685, expenses $569,030).
The only exception is senior programming, which is offered at a very low rate, generating a 7% return (income $4,850, expenses $67,490).
PRC’s goal each year is to generate 62-67% return each year; it has met or exceeded this target in three of the past five years.
Gray surveyed Briarcliff, Cortlandt, Croton, Eastchester, Greenburgh, Hastings, Mamaroneck, Rye and Yorktown and found that none of their city or town boards set a performance target percentage. Their annual fees are determined in several ways: five by an annual program review, one based on the comptroller’s review, one by his parks commission, one based on municipal comparison and operating budget, and another varies between municipal comparison and affordability.
Gray’s recommended continuing to set a target of 62-67%, excluding the Pool Enterprise Fund, and achieving a 90-95% rate of return, excluding admin and parks/ facilities.
Program fees are based on the amount of the contract with the provider, with a range of $20 to $30 per hour and a village/provider split of 25%/75% or 30%/70% depending on the program.
All of the municipalities mentioned above enter into contracts with external providers for their programming. Five used a 20%/80% split, two a 30%/70% split and two go as low as 10% and as high as 20% and 25% for its share.
Youth summer camp was all over the map in the comparison chart presented by Gray. Most camps are six weeks long, while two are five weeks like Scarsdale, but the Scarsdale camp was the highest fare at $1,350. Scarsdale was among the leaders with 158 employees hired and is one of three paying the current minimum wage.
All camps offer swimming, but Scarsdale is one of four to offer free swimming and swimming lessons five days a week, and has the largest extra staff hired for swimming at 30, double that of the nearest city.
Scarsdale is one of two that offer transportation. The Greenburgh bus is $216 for the first child, $108 for each sibling. The Scarsdale one costs $400.
What has not been included in the data are enrollment numbers.
Gray recommends continuing to “offer program fees after department staff complete annual program reviews” and to offer fees “in accordance with planned future program expenses, while achieving the established percentage return target.” income over expenses.
The recreation department operated last summer with three full-time staff, which Gray said created “extra work” for all of the more than 350 seasonal and full-time employees. The biggest challenge, he said, was not having a recreation supervisor to run the pool complex. Seasonal staff members Valerie Gryzlo, Inga DeNunzio, Matthew Newman, JT Forno and Kayla Burke have stepped up to manage the facility, which Gray says “ultimately produced our highest revenue to date at the resort,” generating 7% more revenue than expected at $1,364,834.
Gray also credited the full-time staff for “many long hours and days” to maintain “top-notch programming and facilities” for the community. This group includes Bob Kaczmarek, Sue Orrichio, Dale Hass, Rich Strobel, Rich Massaroni, Stephanie Brown, Hedrick Sy, Luckner Metullus and Gary Senatus.
Scarsdale Mayor Jane Veron called the key to the department’s success its people.
“Their creativity and dedication to meeting the recreational needs and well-being of the Scarsdale community is truly impressive,” she said. “Superintendent Gray and his deputy, Bob Kaczmarek, are very active in their professional association and this helps them to be on the leading edge of thought and action in the area of public recreation services and programs. Their behind-the-scenes support team helps convert program research and data into engaging programs and services, which helps fuel audience interest and, in turn, audience engagement. Brian’s team is focused on quality programming and staff capacity to support them, allowing our Scarsdale residents to look after the revenue side because they love the recreation department and their thoughtful offerings.
Gray appreciated the “great opportunity” to “educate the board on the intricacies of the PRC budget.”
“In the end, the department was advised to continue our annual program/service review process with the goal of finding additional revenue opportunities, if any, without depriving us of participants,” Gray said.
Gray said he would begin preparing a new budget for submission in November, then make a presentation to the village council in January on the proposed fees and changes before his public presentation of the budget.
Veron called Tuesday’s working session “the process improvement we’re testing” as they work “collaboratively to reimagine our budget process and our overall approach to our roles as stewards of public resources.”
“In short, we have observed from our previous budget cycles that reviewing and approving parks and recreation fees has been somewhat burdensome for Scarsdale staff, board and community,” said Veron said. “Sometimes the discussion of particular fees takes too long, and we felt that a focussed discussion on how we establish and present the fee schedule for approval during the budget could help streamline the process, as well as bring the general public to understand the mechanisms involved in setting fees. Superintendent Brian Gray has done a fabulous job supporting our first effort in this regard, and I look forward to continuing to work with [village manager] Rob [Cole] and his team on other initiatives that support our fiscal goals of transparency, collaboration, service excellence, innovation and stewardship.