Inspire : Public Works Nov Dec 2013
30 Public Works Professional November-December 2013 OPERATING PARKS ON A SHRINKING BUDGET Parks strengthen the social fabric of a community, but tight budgets are putting pressure on their sustainability. Here's how one innovative parks department is meeting the challenge. BY BRIAN McCORMACK Decades of rate pegging, price rises and cost-shifting by state and federal governments alike have made it increasingly diffcult for many council departments to sustain service delivery. Not least among those are parks departments, which attract high levels of community expectation when it comes to the trees, ovals and playgrounds that make a place 'liveable'. However, many are fnding ways to trim costs, commercialise ser vices, improve productivity and reduce ser vice delivery to community-acceptable limits. One such innovator is Coffs Harbour City Council’s Parks Department, which plays a key role in the council's recently for med Resourcing Strategy, aimed at tackling the widening gap between expenditure and revenue. At the recent IPWEA International Public Works Conference in Dar win, the council's Manager of Recreational Ser vices, Frank Soltau, outlined several strategies to provide sustainable parks, maximise resources and enhance community life. One has been to form a ‘Friends of Park’ volunteer program to gain community input and acceptance of new projects. Volunteers participate in horticultural and landscape activities such as mowing, reser ve improvements, minor tree pr uning and garden bed maintenance. At the local Botanic Gardens, they also boost income generation by helping to stage events and run a café and kiosk. "Sustainable principles are more achievable if locals take ownership and pride in their environment, work together and connect through mutual interest," says Soltau. Soltau says the program has reduced the burden of maintaining low-use/low-profle parks and freed up council resources for deploying in higher-profle parks. However, he points out that changes to workplace health and safety legislation have made managing more than 80 volunteers quite a challenge. "They are now treated like staff," he says. "They have formal inductions, fll in attendance and incidence sheets, attend awareness sessions about council policies, and are provided with personal protective equipment." GOING COMMERCIAL Another initiative has been to commercialise some services, in line with the council’s Private Works Policy. The policy conforms to the National Competition Policy, whereby government-owned businesses turning over more than $2 million must be able to demonstrate that they are not subsidising prices for private works using public funds. Apart from generating revenue, private works have obviated the need for council to make some employees redundant or dispose of certain plant items. The tree ser vices team, for instance, has a 22-metre elevated platform and has been contracted for 'dead wooding', crown-reduction work and tree-health monitoring for energy companies, schools and the NSW Roads and Maritime Ser vices. And, as many from the mowing team have farming, building or other trade experience, they have helped lay a fbre optic network that the council's Telecommunications & Technology PARK MANAGEMENT CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION Have your say. Visit http://goo.gl/ bW1HTH to comment on this article.
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