Technical Corner

Dealing With 2022 Municipal Election Recreation Anxiety

September 8, 2022

As another municipal election day creeps closer, some recreation professionals will begin to feel pangs of anxiety with regards to what direction their departments may take once the votes are counted. Municipal governance is under extreme financial pressure that sees no end in sight. The continued reduction in federal and provincial transfer payments, combined with the “downloading” of expenses for services for the aged, social well-being and policing are all contributing factors to this pressure. In addition, the realization of the unfunded liability attached to existing infrastructure is being magnified as government demands that corporations design and maintain detailed asset management plans. With the Consumer Price Index (CPI) hovering at 8% employees will be seeking increased compensation to reflect this increase in living costs. Insurance costs are rarely reduced and each significant climate related disaster that causes flood or fire, places more strain on this system that must be recouped through increased premiums. Then there is a worker shortage that has employers competing for skilled labour.

Municipal budgets seem reasonable when the total number is expressed however, most fail to realize that 80+% of the number are fixed costs and no different than a personal budget. Energy, insurance, wages, and day-to-day operational costs to meet regulated obligations must be met. Water, sewer, fire, and roads are all deemed essential services and as such, will get the required funding. Recreation is still considered a soft service and is often sacrificed financially as communities try and balance budgets or find the resources for new projects. Elected officials are often reluctant to fund past projects as they are more inclined to support a new legacy project that can be connected to their term of office. Fixing an aged sports field or park is not news – building a new splash pad is front page worthy in the local media. Experienced recreation managers will be seeking adequate support to operate and maintain this addition to their management portfolio, but reality most often has it added without the required increase in staff or operational funds. When the construction is new, it requires little investment but as each day passes, the required investment increases.

Every part of the recreational operational landscape requires a business plan that addresses the management of the asset. Taping into other similar operations to gain an understanding of what is to be expected is available through the ORFA on-line Discussion Board. Creating and maintaining a real time asset management plan has never been more simple or affordable through the ORFA Recreation Facility Asset Management software tool with an inventory module provided at no cost as a benefit of membership. Recreation professionals who are invested in preparing detailed data to share during the early design or discussion phase, as well as part of the annual budget process, will significantly decrease their operational anxiety level.

Politicians are often dreamers with respect to how their communities might improve. Recreation departments are often the “dream catcher” as these dreams come to fruition and require ongoing operation and maintenance. The ORFA continues to provide the necessary information and leadership to support its members in these goals.

    Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Technical Director, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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