A consulting group familiar with the Gahanna Parks & Recreation Department will conduct a cost analysis to make recommendations for the future.

A consulting group familiar with the Gahanna Parks & Recreation Department will conduct a cost analysis to make recommendations for the future.

Gahanna City Council on July 15 approved legislation to extend an agreement with Pros Consulting for a cost-of-service study for the department and to appropriate $10,000 from the general fund.

Parks and recreation director Tony Collins said it's important that the city have a complete understanding of service costs as the department determines priorities, makes cuts and reductions and looks for alternative funding sources.

In setting priorities for the next five years, he said, decisions need to be made for items that aren't funded.

Leon Younger of Pros Consulting provided a parks master-plan update, including public-input findings, during a July 8 council committee meeting.

With the failure of the May income-tax levy, a focus group of 70-plus individuals were asked what parks and recreation services should be reduced or eliminated.

Younger said most people generally didn't know what to cut. Others suggested closing the older pools and cutting programs that don't cover costs.

He also provided results of a 26-question survey that was conducted by mail during March and April. Of 2,000 surveys mailed to a random sample of Gahanna households, 745 surveys were completed.

Seventy-one percent of the survey respondents said they participate in at least one parks-rec program or activity. That far exceeds the national benchmark of 35 percent, Younger said. Most respondents said the quality of programs and activities is excellent or good.

The top four facilities most important to households were walking and biking trails, 51.1 percent; nature center and trails, 22.3 percent; large community parks, 20.9 percent; and small neighborhood parks, 20.1 percent.

The four programs listed as most important by age segment include community special events, 36.4 percent; adult fitness and wellness programs, 27.4 percent; nature programs and exhibits, 17.3 percent; and senior programs, 14.6 percent. Among those over 70 years old, 37.8 percent ranked senior programs as important.

Seventy-five percent of household respondents said the city should build a new aquatics center; however, they were evenly split on whether the new outdoor aquatics center should be developed soon or after the existing pool becomes non-functional.

Respondents said the development of new walking/biking trails is the most important for the city to develop, followed by completion of the Big Walnut Trail and acquiring open space for passive activities.

A program-needs priority ranking are adult fitness and wellness programs, water fitness programs, community special events, youth learn-to-swim programs, youth sports programs, adult sports programs and cycling programs.

A financial key issue, Younger said, is development of a service assessment to determine true costs to provide services. He said it needs to be decided which services should be cut or kept based on the return on investment.

Other key issues, he said, involve finding ways to make the parks foundation as productive as possible, closing older pools and developing a long-term financial plan.

Younger said the best parks system in the country are the ones that are balanced.

"The city has good direct information but not necessarily indirect," he said. "It would help to know what to let go and why."

Younger said what's interesting about Gahanna is that residents really want things, but they're reasonable about the cost.

"Most use the YMCA or Westerville's (community center) facility," he said. "It's amazing how many Gahanna residents are members of the Westerville facility."

Mayor Becky Stinchcomb said it's important for everyone to remember that the city paid for the land for the local YMCA.

"To get a Y here, the city spent over $1 million to provide the land for the YMCA," she said. "They serve a lot of people. That was one nonprofit and public partnership we have done in this city successfully."

Council member Brandon Wright asked if any city has done a good job with a master plan that changed the city itself.

Younger said Kettering, a suburb of Dayton, is a good example.

"They used the park system to leverage living there," he said. "It really made that town livable. If you don't have mountains and lakes, what makes a town special? It's the connectivity. Communities that do that understand what a parks system does for a city. You also have to have good safety forces. People don't trash pretty parks."

Collins said a data analysis for each operation has been started.

"We found we don't have all the data," he said. "To do the detailed calculation, we asked Leon if there would be benefit to cost-analyze, from mowing to rec programming to operating one of our facility. It will give cost-per-use basis to help with future decision-making."