RACINE — Year after year, local governments tighten their budgets and that often means departments like parks and recreation receive cuts or no additional investment. But there could be a way to change that.
The Wisconsin Policy Forum and the Center for Governmental Research released a study that looked at how each municipality east of Interstate 94 handles their parks and recreation programs and found ways where services can be delivered more efficiently and possibly cheaper.
On Wednesday, the study was presented to officials from each of the municipalities at the Racine Theatre Guild, 2519 Northwestern Ave., as part of the Resilient Communities event put on by the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread. The recommendations for parks and recreation were made along with ideas for improving fire and EMS services.
Caledonia Village President Jim Dobbs said the conversations about becoming more efficient as a region “started before Foxconn” and added the municipalities need to look at fire and EMS, and parks and recreation seriously as ways to consolidate or find cost savings.
Sturtevant Village Trustee Jason Eckman said the county is changing daily “and those changes are going to create new challenges for us.”
“Our board is used to hearing me say ‘There is no more money,’” Eckman said. “Based on the work of the Wisconsin Policy Forum, I see that there are opportunities here to reduce both capital spending and operational expenses. And what I’d like to do is encourage the respective boards to continue to evaluate these options for the success of the region.”
The county anticipates population growth over the next several years, which is likely to increase the demand for better parks and recreational services from municipalities.
“This was evident pre-Foxconn, certainly it’s more evident post-Foxconn, even though we’re not sure exactly what Foxconn is going to mean to this community,” Rob Henken, president of the Wisconsin Policy Forum, said. “But I think it’s safe to say … that there’s a growing demand for recreation services wherever you look throughout greater Racine and eastern Racine County.”
Henken said if municipalities work together there can be ways to increase services and possibly reduce costs.
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“One of the things that ought to be seriously considered is some type of overriding greater Racine parks and recreation council that can coordinate recreation services among the greater Racine municipalities,” Henken said. “That can plan for meeting future recreation needs and could also, potentially, look at how to jointly finance any new recreational facilities or parks facilities or recreational offerings that the broader community wants to put into play.”
Henken said the potential council would be made up of representatives from each of the municipalities and it could create one website for residents to go to get recreational information; it could coordinate hiring referee and umpires, recruit coaches and be responsible for background checks.
That could take a lot of administrative tasks off of the hands of current staff, Henken said.
Henken added the Racine County government would be a natural entity to help oversee the council.
Building fields, maintenance
There are also areas of collaboration when it comes to youth sports.
Not every municipality has to have a specific field or court for every sport but investments could be made for Caledonia, for example, to build more soccer fields and Mount Pleasant build baseball and softball fields.
There is already some park collaboration with Mount Pleasant and Caledonia, specifically in regard to the Caledonia-Mount Pleasant Memorial Park.
In the area of maintenance, Henken said the Mount Pleasant, Caledonia, Sturtevant and Racine County do a good job of balancing park and public works maintenance with roughly the same employees.
“Parks is much more labor intensive in the summer months, public works is much more labor intensive in the winter months,” Henken said. “That’s sort of a nice way to do it.”