Archive for September 2011

2011 Keeping Public Parks Open Conference – Update

On November 2, 2011, I am hosting a conference in Scottsdale, Arizona on how public agencies can keep parks open through private recreation management partnerships.

For thirty years, the US Forest Service has seen radically declining recreation budgets, with far greater reductions than places like California is facing, but has not had to close parks and has kept most of their recreation areas well-maintained.

Their innovation was to take advantage of the substantially lower costs of private operators to run their campgrounds and picnic areas.

For the last couple of years, it has frustrated me to no end to watch states like California and Arizona — really almost every state in the country — let some parks accumulate deferred maintenance while other are closed when it simply is not necessary.

The event flyer is here, which hopefully you can also forward as an email from the link at the bottom.  If you know anyone in public recreation or in the your state’s legislature who is interested in recreation issues, please point them to this site where they can learn about and register for this conference.  We have gotten some sponsorships such that government employees can attend for free, and the rooms in the hotel, a fabulous resort in Scottsdale, can be had for just $105 per night.

Labor Costs

This relationship between public and private labor costs here is very similar to what we find in parks.  Most park agencies have about 80% labor costs, while ours for running similar facilities is between 30% and 40%.

The New York Times reports that labor currently represents 80 percent of the Postal Service’s expenses, while it accounts for 53 percent at United Parcel Service and only 32 percent at FedEx

The difference mainly lies both in productivity expectations as well as escaping civil service pay and benefits scales.  The difference is typically NOT about number feet on the ground — in fact, private companies tend to have more customer contact people in the park than do state agencies.

Hostility to Reducing Costs via Private Operations

California makes noises about being open to any option that keeps parks open, but then I see stuff like this, demonstrating that the legislature cares far more about protecting current government jobs than it does about reducing costs or maintaining services to the public

Apparently, the folks in Sacramento believe that cities looking for ways to reduce expenses are better off with no libraries at all than with privately operated libraries.

Assembly Bill 438, sponsored by Assemblyman Das Williams, D-Santa Barbara, is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk because Democrats in Sacramento voted to control local decisions and prevent cities from making choices about what is best for their own libraries.

The bill represents a dramatic overreach by Sacramento into local communities. Via AB438 the Legislature mandates that cities choosing to privatize are not allowed to reduce the size of their library staffs. Further, the bill mandates that every single current library employee must keep his or her job in any future public-private partnership agreement, which explains why powerful unions have been pushing the bill. Cities will also be forced to spend time and money preparing and submitting studies and reports to Sacramento in order to obtain the state’s permission to privatize.

“We hope the governor will veto the bill, since he has talked a lot about the importance of retaining local authority,” said Dan Carrigg of the League of California Cities.

California has been a national leader in partnering with the private sector to operate libraries. In fact, the first-ever public-private partnership between a local government and private operator was signed in 1997 between Riverside County and Library Systems & Services Inc. and this agreement is still in place today.

How did that work out?

In June 2010, Riverside County published a report highlighting the results of their 13-year partnership with LSSI. The study found taxpayers have enjoyed better services with longer operating hours. Staffing has more than doubled. The number of open library branches increased from 24 to 33 and more than $15 million was invested in new facilities or major renovations.