Sunday, October 26, 2008

Entrepreneurial Approach Helps Budget

The current economic challenges are causing all levels of government to rethink what they are doing and how they are doing it. With interest income down, cost of living up, and taxes from real estate and sales (primary sources for local government) down, the challenges to maintain a balanced budget are daunting.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) is a regional agency made up of three counties and three cities in Northern Virginia. We do not have any taxing authority, but we do receive some tax dollar support from our six member jurisdictions. With tax revenues down substantially at both a state and local level, NVRPA will be coping with a leaner budget as well.

In our FY'2010 budget just approved by our Board last week, we were able to keep our per person cost for our member jurisdictions at the same rate as 2007. This is three years without any cost of living adjustments during a period of time with substantial inflation. We did this by reducing our general fund by 10%. This is the part of our budget that supports our headquarters and central maintenance functions. We also put in place a full time hiring freeze, and greater controls on all spending to control costs.

NVRPA has long been one of the leanest and most efficient park agencies in the nation. We now generate 81.5% of our operating expenses through self generated revenues. In 2007 the Pioneer Institute gave us a national award for entrepreneurial service delivery. Since 1990 we have gone from over 30% taxpayer support of our operations to our current 18.5%.

We faced considerable economic challenges in 2003 & 2004 and responded proactively. In 2005 we went through a reorganization that substantially brought down our overhead, and increased our productivity at the same time. We also started reinvesting in our own facilities, and approached the marketing of our parks in a business like manner.

As a result of our business like approach to running parks, we have seen annual double digit increases in the use of our parks over the last few years. Our enterprise revenues have increased nearly 30% in the last three years, and our facilities have never looked better.

Even with this great success story, our budget for FY'2010 is just barely balanced. This is due to a number of external factors including:

  • 18% increase in energy costs

  • Substantial increases to retirement program due to the stock market crash

  • Local government appropriations that have not kept pace with inflation

  • Sharply declining interest income

These factors are not unique to NVRPA, organizations everywhere are facing these and other issues that will challenge and strain budgets over the next few years. Currently the residents of Northern Virginia pay less than $5 per person for combined capital and operating support for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. For this modest investment they get a 10,000 acre park system with 100 miles of trails, five water parks, historic sites, campgrounds, botanical gardens, three golf courses, five marinas and much, much more. And all of this operated as one of the most efficient park agencies in the nation.

One example of the entrepreneurial approach NVRPA has become known for is the themeing of Pohick Bay pool in 2008 into Pirate's Cove Water park. The renovations and marketing resulted in a $125K improvement in financial performance, without an increase in rates. Another result was many more happy park patrons.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Park Bonds Offer Opportunity in Fairfax County

In addition to the Presidential election, voters will get to vote on new park bonds on Election Day in Fairfax County.

Voting to spend money on parks may seem counter-intuitive to some in a time of economic crisis but, in reality, this may be one of the best investments possible in the local community and economy. Here are some of the reasons:

In a year when all local governments in Northern Virginia will be working with a smaller budget due to a declining tax base from home values, the park bond will provide funds for long-term assets like land, new facilities and renovations. This money will help stimulate the local economy now, and will be paid back over the life of these improvements at a very low interest rate.
At a time when many neighborhoods are seeing a declining value, the improvements brought by the park bond can help shore up the appearance and property values of distressed neighborhoods.

With declining property values, there is a great opportunity to purchase new parkland at a good value for the public. Studies have shown that properties adjacent to or near public open space are valued measurably higher than similar property not near parks.[1]
This park bond will not be increasing the long-term debt of the County, but will be replacing other bonds that are being paid off. So, the long-term debt of the County will be held at roughly the same level. Fairfax County’s solid financial management has resulted in the highest rating for Fairfax County bonds (AAA).

“As both a former Chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and a long time park supporter, I have seen investments in parks contribute to the overall health of the community in times of recession before. With home values down, we need to vote for the park bonds to help improve our communities. With the bond, we can stimulate the economy, and without it the condition of our parks will start to decline, bringing down real estate values even more,” stated Jean R. Packard, Fairfax County Board Member to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

This year’s park bonds include $65M for the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), and $12M for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA). In Fairfax County, the County Park Authority operates 24,000 acres of parkland, and the Regional Park Authority operates 8,000 acres of parkland. These funds will be spread over the next four years to cover long-term improvements to area parks.

Fairfax County Park Authority proposes to invent this capital as follows:
30% for Renovations
30% for Park Development
22% for Land Acquisition
18% for Stewardship

Detailed information on FCPA capital plans is at:

Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority proposes to invest capital for the next five years as follows:
38% for New Facilities/Major Renovations
30% for Enhancements/Capital Maintenance Projects
21% for Development Support/Equipment
11% for Land Acquisition

Detailed information on NVRPA proposed Capital Improvement Plan is at:

In a park needs survey conducted by NVRPA of residents in Northern Virginia conducted in 2007, the public expressed a great interest in acquiring new parkland and seeing existing parks well maintained. These are priorities that are accomplished through the park bonds.

In another poll conducted of Virginia voters by the Trust for Public Land in 2008, 84% of the public were interested in conserving lands that protected rivers and lakes that were drinking water sources. Most of the 10,000 acres of total parkland that NVRPA owns is directly connected to drinking water source protection. We have 13 miles of shoreline along the Potomac River, over 25 miles of shoreline along the Bull Run/Occoquan Rivers, and hundreds of acres adjacent to Beaver Dam Reservoir, all of which are drinking water sources for the residents of Northern Virginia.

In park bonds in Fairfax County over the last decade, the voters have demonstrated a track record of approving these important community investments by at least 70%.

[1] Economic Impact of Protecting Rivers, Trails and Greenway Corridors, National Park Service, 1995