« PreviousContinue »
Wilkinson, K. P. 1979. Social well-being and community.
of the Community Development Society 19(1):5-16.
by Ray Murray
porting cost centers separate from appropriations.
ing public park and recreation systems. Public agencies are working hard at improving the cost effectiveness of their operations and generating supplemental sources of support including fees and charges. So the User Fees and Charges topic for this issue of Trends is timely.
The pattern that has emerged in the public sector looks something like this:
The public park and recreation movement has come a long way from the village commons, settlement houses, and showpiece parks of earlier American times. Today, our public park systems include vast wilderness areas and vest pocket parks, mansions and museums, bandshells and historic homes, swimming pools and soccer fields, zoos and golf courses. In them Americans can play tennis, learn tai-chi, camp in the backcountry, attend folklife festivals, do aerobic dancing, go beachcombing or canoeing, ride bike trails, raft rivers, or make pottery, just to name a few of the possibilities. Never have so many had so much accessible and affordable recreation to choose from. Our society has come to regard this wealth of recreation resources and choice of opportunities as an inalienable right for all citizens. It is a means to the "pursuit of happiness" cited in our Declaration of Independence.
To make this possible, the people of this country have established, and supported with their tax dollars, a host of public park and recreation agencies. These agencies are charged with acquiring, protecting, developing and managing park and recreation lands for us all.
Operating our public park systems and continuing to provide an array of quality leisure experiences to the citizenry is an increasingly complex, difficult task for most public park and recreation professionals. Conflicting priorities for limited tax dollars usually result in appropriations at all levels of government which are not keeping pace with the costs of operat
Since the taxpayer revolt which surfaced with California's Proposition 13 in June 1978, pressures on the public managers to generate a higher percentage of income from park users have intensified. This pressure is in marked contrast to the preceding two decades in which large infusions of tax dollars resulted in the rapid expansion of park systems around the country and a relaxation of generating revenues from visitors. During those two decades, government endeavored to serve everyone at little or no direct cost to the park user.
As evidenced by public opinion polls, the taxpayer's revolt was calling for less taxes and more "pay as you go" financing of public services under which users bear more of the cost of specialized services they enjoy and the taxpayers pay less. The revolt spurred governing bodies and administrators nationwide to ask public managers to charge users more for the services they enjoy. Most public park and recreation agencies have become more aggressive revenue managers. Many recreation programs are required to be selfsupporting. Revenue producing facilities are given higher priority for construction. High revenue generating services such as golf, tennis, recreation classes, and exercise classes are set up as self sup
1) Basic services continue to
be offered free or at mini
mal cost to the public 2) Costs are recovered
through fees and charges for more specialized high cost services wherever: a) the users can pay, b) it is cost effective to collect the fees, and c) fees are charged for comparable
lished through enterprise
becoming more of a pro-
of incentives for program
If the lines appear to be blurring between government and private enterprise park and recreation operations, it is because there is more similarity. But there continue to be distinct differences. Many
long curriculums to public park and recreation professionals to fine tune their public revenue management skills.
public park systems could not be managed by private enterprise. They contain large acreages and inventories of facilities incapable of supporting a profit margin. And most important, government is there to provide basic park and recreation services as a public good available to all citizens regardless of ability to pay. These distinctions will continue to limit the extent to which government park and recreation services expand the degree to which their expenses can be offset by revenues.
For many public park and recreation professionals, it has been very unsettling to shift values from an era of providing essentially "free" services to the public to an era of generating fees and charges wherever possible. Are we in the business of protecting park resources and serving people or are we in the business of collecting fees from park visitors? The reality is both. The issue is not whether we will establish and collect user fees and charges. The issue is for what services and how much will we charge, and how will we continue to accommodate low income park users along with those who can pay the higher fees.
Furthermore, we must not lose sight of the fact that public park and recreation systems are a cornerstone in the U.S. leisure industry where recreation is not only a right, but also a commodity. The August 13, 1984, issue of U.S. News and World Report estimated that Americans in 1984 will spend $310 billion on sports, recreation and entertainment. It is a measure of the American people's ability and willingness to pay for recreation experiences. It would be irresponsible for us as stewards of public lands not to consider recovering a fee from park users.
perspectives. Dr. John Crompton of Texas A&M, one of the most knowledgeable professionals in this field, discusses price setting considerations for user fees and charges. There is an article on techniques for insuring that low income populations are not denied access to parks by higher fees.
Since fees often have a bearing on the extent of liability, there is an article by noted authority James Kozlowski, J.D., whose articles appear under the NRPA Law Review column in NRPA's monthly Parks and Recreation magazine. Hopefully, these shared perspectives and viewpoints will assist you and your staff in making informed decisions for implementing ser fees and charges.
Revenue management has always been part of our job as stewards of public resources entrusted to our care. We must add revenue management to our list of professional skills. It is not surprising that there are well-established Revenue Source Management Schools sponsored by the National Park and Recreation Association in Wheeling, West Virginia; Boulder, Colorado; and San Diego, California which offer two-year, week
Our challenge is to manage our user fees and charges to: 1) insure a fair return on the public's investment, 2) transfer a fair share of the cost for specialized services from the taxpayer at large to the park visitor who enjoys the service, and, 3) insure the public is not denied access to quality park and recreation experiences.
This Trends issue offers insights and ideas on public user fees and charges. Barry Mackintosh's article reminds us we've been in the revenue management business all along. Sarah Jones' article looks at the role user fees and charges play in parks and recreation financing across the country today. Four large federal land managing agencies-the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-report their
Ray Murray is Chief, Division of Park and Recreation Technical Services, National Park Service, San Francisco, California.