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August 12, 2022

City Looks to Contract Out Recreation Services

While the majority of public recreation programs aren’t expected to return until late spring or early summer next year, the city of Scotts Valley is looking at how it could provide these community services as efficiently as possible.

At a special joint study session with the City Council and the Scotts Valley Parks & Recreation Commission, the idea of contracting out some of the programs the City used to operate in-house took center stage.

After the novel coronavirus struck, Scotts Valley laid off its entire Recreation Division (except for the recreation manager), since it was clear it wouldn’t be making any money off program fees anytime soon. But now, with most of the population vaccinated, and Skypark having just received a new carpet of grass, City planners have been looking towards a rebirth for parks and rec.

The review of a report prepared by Management Partners, held Sept. 29, took aim at the pre-pandemic average of $250,000 Scotts Valley had been investing in recreation programming. It identified opportunities to partner with neighboring municipalities for some activities, and to hand over the day-to-day provision of others to private parties.

The local government consulting firm recommended the City continue to handle facility rentals, including sport field uses and special events programming, but said it should consider contracting Siltanen Swimming Pool aquatics programs to Santa Cruz County, Boulder Creek Recreation and Park District, or the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Cruz County.

The Management Partners’ report, titled the “Recreation Services Assessment and Restoration Plan,” recommended collaborating with Capitola or Santa Cruz for classes and adult sports programs, and encouraged the creation of a separate nonprofit board to oversee the Scotts Valley Senior Center.

And how many full-time staffers should work in the Recreation Division? According to Management Partners, the answer is three—a manager, a coordinator and an administrative assistant.

Before the pandemic, the division was staffed with two senior directors, a coordinator, a secretary and a manager, who also assisted with the child care program when its staff were away.

“As a result, she spent much of her time directly involved with day-to-day programs which took time away from managing the division,” according to the consultant report.

And the City should conduct a facility fee study, Management Partners also recommended.

Interim City Manager Brian Haddix characterized the direction Scotts Valley is heading not as “privatization” but as a way for the City to serve its citizens more proficiently through a series of agreements that would cut down on overhead.

“Privatization is when you lose control—you turn over the activities to someone else entirely,” he said. “Contracting-out is when you contract with another party to do the activity, but you still have control over it.”

Public Works Director Chris Lamm said many existing recreation programs are already managed by other parties, such as little league, soccer and girls softball.

“All of those are programs that are much-beloved by the community, and utilize City facilities, but they’re not City-run programs necessarily,” he said. “As we look forward to bringing those programs that were cut back online, we’re looking at what’s the best model to do that.”

Management Partners recommended Scotts Valley “transfer responsibility” of organizing sports leagues, for both adults and youth, to local groups.

According to Lamm, for the programs that have traditionally been run by the City, Scotts Valley officials would still take “the lead” in a service restart.

“The one thing we’re looking at is whether or not it makes sense for the City to hire staff to physically run those programs directly, or, can we have the best quality of service and user experience met with a better business model to provide that service,” he said.

The Management Partners report noted that staff is dedicated to its programs and takes a hands-on approach.

“However, due to this heavy daily involvement, many of the administrative duties were difficult to complete,” it reads. “These include lack of data collection, use of technology, marketing, fee studies and cost recovery goals, training, networking within the parks and recreation profession, and use of best practices.”

It also states that the amount of time required for staff to handle work related to commissions, committees and special events was “not recognized by many City leaders.”

Haddix says contracting out could allow Scotts Valley to get high-quality programming from a provider that covers its own administrative costs by working with a variety of clients.

“By spreading those fixed costs out we pay less,” he said. “That means the savings that we get, we can apply to additional services. So, the community benefits from professional services, and the City gets a savings, allowing it to turn around and enhance the overall recreation picture it presents to the community.”

In his prior job, as assistant public works director in Menlo Park, Lamm helped manage land development, utilities and capital improvements, but recreation was in a separate department.

However, he told the Press Banner he’s seen how contracting out for professional engineering services—particularly in the design stage—could be a helpful tool for a community.

In the report, Management Partners said its recommendations “can realistically be implemented in the next six months to allow recreation services to be fully restored” in Scotts Valley.

The company said Scotts Valley should evaluate the current child care program at Brook Knoll Elementary School and consider long-term agreements with both Scotts Valley Unified School District and the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Cruz County, to allow this type of arrangement to continue.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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