Carson City’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space department is in the midst of some of its biggest changes since the economic downturn a decade ago.
“The recession had really impacted this department in a hard way,” like Parks and Rec departments everywhere, said Jennifer Budge, director.
Since joining the department 10 months ago, Budge has set about reorganizing and re-imagining the department.
First she met one-on-one with the department’s 30 full-time employees, held meetings with Nick Marano, the city manager, and the department’s program managers, and talked to the members of the two boards who oversee the department, Open Space Advisory Committee and Parks and Recreation Commission, all to understand their needs and concerns.
Then Budge brought in OnStrategy, a Reno consultant, to help craft a vision for the department.
“We needed a third-party facilitator to get a true reflection from staff to determine what changes, if any, needed to be made,” she said.
The result was a strategic plan finished in March that outlines priorities, including the 2017 goals of enhanced community engagement, diversify funding, improve operations, and foster staff development.
Much of that is already underway.
Park maintenance worker Heather Kelly, for example, recently became a certified playground safety inspector and will take on the task of doing a playground inventory and assessment. Budge is looking to certify another employee as an arborist.
A new, half-time clerical position at the Lone Mountain Cemetery was created to provide customer service and filled by Antionette Hill, and the parks and cemetery coordinator was reclassified to a parks maintenance coordinator.
On May 1, Scott Chapman will become recreation program manager for sports, which he does currently, as well as the Multi-Athletic Center.
Steve Brunner, the deputy director who joined the department soon after Budge started, is leaving May 11, which helped facilitate a change in the department’s organization chart.
“It is always sad to see someone go, but I see a vacancy as an opportunity to reorganize,” said Budge.
As a result, the deputy director position is being changed to parks operations superintendent, saving the department $27,000 which will be used to hire more seasonal parks maintenance workers who work varying hours from April to October.
As part of the changes, the department’s organizational structure was redrawn.
Budge now has five direct reports, versus the previous seven, and some staff were moved around to better align their duties, including moving both park rangers under the newly classified parks operations superintendent.
A part-time trails coordinator position was approved for the fiscal year 2017 budget and Gregg Bergren was recently hired. And a full-time parks maintenance coordinator under Open Space was approved for the 2018 budget.
The department will also be getting three AmeriCorps VISTA workers in June for 12 months.
One will work on public relations and marketing, another on outreach and education and another as a volunteer coordinator.
“We need a big labor force and volunteers are wonderful but they need to be supported,” said Budge. “I’m really excited for all (the AmeriCorp VISTA workers) new ideas. They’ll all be recent college grads.”
Budge said she encourages staff to cross train, for their own career advancement, and sees more personnel changes in the future, if and when the department can fund them.
“We have a need for a heavy equipment specialist, an irrigation specialist. I’d love to have a grant writer,” said Budge.
In the meantime, there are more projects in the works, including an overhaul of the department’s fee structure, which Budge hopes to bring to the Board of Supervisors this summer.
The department is comparing the city’s fees, such as to use the pool or reserve a park for an event, to 21 other comparable departments throughout Northern Nevada and already it’s clear Carson City’s fees are low across the board.
The department is also undertaking an asset inventory and condition index that should help it in the next budget cycle and long-term capital improvement planning.
“Capital improvement needs right now are $8 million but that’s just priorities from park managers,” said Budge. After a formal inventory, “I wouldn’t be surprised if that quadruples.”
Right now, Budge is just pleased the department fared well during the current budget process.
“I’m pleased the board supported this vision. It’s not just my vision, it’s every employees’ vision,” said Budge. “I think it’s a great opportunity to start fresh.”