Boulder Parks and Recreation nearing end of master planning process

While Boulder Parks and Recreation is in the process of considering alternative revenue sources, the department intends to review its service levels and potentially reduce some areas in order to maintain others.

The concept was supported by Boulder City Council in a study session Tuesday, during one of the last touches the City Council will have on the 2022 Parks and Recreation master plan ahead of its potential adoption later this year.

“Our desires are insatiable and our finances are limited,” Councilmember Mark Wallach said, after indicating support for the idea of prioritization.

Similarly, Councilmember Bob Yates acknowledged that priorities change over years. Around the time of the last update, people were all about handball. Now it’s pickleball.

“Obviously, you’re going to have to do your best to prioritize … recognizing that we can’t be all things to all members of the community given our limited resources,” he said.

The city’s Parks and Recreation department is nearing the end of a multiyear master planning process. The plan, an update of the 2014 master plan, is meant to guide the department over the next five years and will shape the way it provides services.

In terms of funding recreation, Boulder City Council expressed support for charging adults with the ability to pay the full cost for programming participation and visits to city facilities.

For example, Parks and Recreation Director Ali Rhodes noted that the last analysis indicated it costs the department $10 a visit for an adult who drops in to a recreation center. The price has been slowly increasing but hasn’t yet reached $10.

Parks and Recreation has determined that without additional funding, it won’t be able to provide any additional programming for people with disabilities or those who qualify as low income.

It also might need to reconsider age-based discounts for older adults and youth.

Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Friend and Councilmember Tara Winer questioned the idea of providing a discount for all older adults, regardless of need. It seems likely that there are seniors with the financial means to pay the full price and younger adults who could use the subsidy, both argued.

Rhodes noted that as the adult drop-in prices continue to increase, the others will too.

The draft master plan discussed Tuesday does identify a number of additional funding sources, at least some of which would be necessary without a reduction in services.

Grants and philanthropy are meant for one-time infusions of funding to support specific projects or programs, the department noted.

An additional tax subsidy is considered an ongoing source of funding to support core services of the department, though there was no indication of support for this at the moment.

Other revenue generation opportunities include reexamining non-resident fees and commercial uses in parks and exploring other entrepreneurial efforts. Boulder considers anyone who lives or works in the city a resident.

In terms of revenue generation, the City Council supported the concept of creativity.

“There’s no magic money tree that Council has. We know that. We’re eager to capture opportunities where we can to support these community benefit programs,” Rhodes said.

If the city is leaning toward imposing additional fees, the department acknowledged that it would need to be accompanied by a conversation about equity and a consideration of who is being disproportionately impacted by the fees.

Given staffing shortages and financial constraints, Councilmember Nicole Speer was curious to know more about the department’s decision-making process.

According to the Interim Planning, Design and Community Engagement Manager Regina Elsner, the department first uses something called the recreation priority index.

“What we do in that index is we look at recreation programming and we identify, through a series of questions and analysis, who benefits from that programming,” Elsner said.

That could be a community benefit, an individual benefit or a recreational benefit. This helps determine the priority and the cost recovery rate, she noted.

The Parks and Recreation Department also has an asset management program wherein it examines the condition of a particular asset.

The draft plan outlines a number of funding scenarios with projects that the Parks and Recreation department would expect to undertake in each.

For example, in the “fiscally constrained” scenario, the department would maintain the East and North Boulder Recreation Centers but retire the South Boulder Recreation Center. In the “action” scenario, it would enhance all three.

The plan will go through several public hearings before it’s officially adopted. The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board is scheduled to have a public hearing and make a recommendation in late June.

The Planning Board comes next, before the City Council makes the final decision in early August.