With Lawrence Township still trying to cut expenses and increase revenues in order to bring its 2013 municipal budget in compliance with the state’s 2 percent cap on the tax levy, and with similar budgetary struggles likely in the years ahead, Recreation Superintendent Steve Groeger and his staff, together with the volunteers of the Recreation Advisory Committee, have been working hard to figure out ways to make the department more “self-sustaining” and less reliant on tax dollars.
An “across-the-board” 13-percent increase – per year, for each of the next five years – in recreation participation fees was one of three proposals outlined by Groeger during last Thursday’s (Nov. 8) Lawrence Township Council meeting.
Another option discussed would involve raising participation fees by 13 percent in 2013, and then by 6 percent during each of the next four years, with additional revenue possibly being generated by sponsorships, new programs and other methods.
The remaining proposal, meanwhile, would see the township allowing outside companies to come in and, in exchange for a fee provided to the township, run many or all of the various recreational programs currently offered in Lawrence Township.
Township council members took no action following Groeger’s presentation, but said they would consider the information.
(Groeger’s presentation can be heard beginning at the 4:05 mark of the Audio Part 2 file found in the media box above.)
Groeger began his presentation by explaining that the township Recreation Department is made up of the Recreation Office, which is responsible for providing most of the athletic and leisure activities enjoyed by township youth and adults, and the Office on Aging, which runs the Lawrence Senior Center and provides activities for the 6,000 or so seniors living in town.
The three proposals discussed concern only the expenses and revenues of the Recreation Office which, according to Groeger, annually operates about four dozen programs and events for children and adults, including summer camps and sports clinics, and is also responsible for renting out township fields and parks and coordinating the use of the Lawrence Nature Center.
“Year-to-date, we’ve done about 3,330 registrations. And while the summer time is the biggest time for participation, as well as generating revenue, since mid-August alone we’ve had 660 families register for programs, we generated $62,000 and we’ve had 750 children under the age of 18 register and about 120 over the age of 18,” Groeger said.
“To date, in terms of facility rentals, we’ve had 67 reservations for picnics, 31 rentals for our fields, and we’ve actually had nine private sports camps that paid to use our fields generate about $1,200 in revenue. And finally, we’ve always had a philosophy here in Lawrence that we don’t want to deny our children [the opportunity] to participate when there are issues of finances, so we do provide financial assistance. This year, we’ve reviewed 109 requests – that’s for 27 different families, 41 different children, and awarded $12,000 in scholarships – which is, in essence, money that’s not collected for our programs.”
In discussing the first proposal, Groeger provided council members with handouts showing the projected operating expenses – including salaries and benefits for both fulltime and seasonal employees – for the Recreation Office for 2013 through 2017, together with the amount revenue expected to be generated by annual 13-percent participation fee increases.
(Copies of those handouts can also be found in PDF format in the media box above.)
One chart shows that – after taking into account the office’s various revenues (fees, permits and grants) – the anticipated cost to taxpayers to run the Recreation Office during 2013 is $168,533, but that by 2017 that anticipated cost drops to $2,059.
“What we’ve done, if you look over the next four years, through 2017, is to continue a 13-percent across-the-board increase in fees,” Groeger explained. “We’ve used a level number of participants. What we have for 2012 – we’re assuming that that number will stay the same. And that’s despite the fact that if you check enrollment in the school district there’s been a steady increase. But we’re assuming we’re going to stay flat.
“In terms of the expenses, we’ve added in some additional costs, so there’s the gradual increase that we would expect to see through 2017. The 13 percent increase in fees, on an annual basis, if you look at the bottom under 2017, will get us to a point where the Recreation Office is completely self-sustaining, that there’s no cost to provide the Recreation Office, including fulltime staff and fulltime benefits.”
The other chart distributed by Groeger provides a breakdown of how the various fees would go up over time as a result of the annual 13-percent increase.
For example, participation in youth basketball currently costs $60, but would go up to $68 in 2013 and subsequently increase to $111 by 2017. Safety Town – the respected summer educational program for soon-to-be-kindergartners – currently costs $65, but would go up to $73 next year and grow to $120 by 2017. While it currently costs $240 for a child to take part in summer sports camp, that fee would increase to $271 in 2013 and to $442 by 2017.
The second option, Groeger explained, would see participation fees increase 13 percent next year, but only go up 6 percent each year from 2014 to 2017.
“That would leave us about $120,000 short,” he said. “But working with the recreation committee we would look at other ways to generate that revenue – sponsorships for our programs, new programs that would generate additional revenue, increasing facility rentals, [and] looking for a way to offset the costs of those financial assistance scholarships that we do.
“If we start to raise the fees too high, we’re going to start to see diminishing returns, but not necessarily to the point where we’re going to cut programs or cut expenses,” he continued. “You run a camp program with 300 kids and we get 25 less kids we’re not going to reduce staff but that’s 25 less registration fees we get. By approaching it from a number of different angles – fees, sponsorships, rentals, scholarships – allows us to adjust on an annual basis if the fees drop off a little bit.”
And the third option, he said, would see the township “going out to a bid process and finding agencies that might be willing to come in and run some or all of our programs; maybe multiple agencies that would pay us to run the same programs.”
When asked by Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis about the Office on Aging, Groeger said a similar analysis of Senior Center operations had not yet been done. He noted that “it’s going to be more difficult with the seniors because most of the programs there do not generate any revenue. And when you’re not generating revenue, to generate a lot of revenue is going to be more difficult. There are other things that we can do in terms of running activities that end up being fundraisers.”