Gahanna City Council is studying a parks master-plan update that would guide the city's parks and recreation department for the next five years.

Gahanna City Council is studying a parks master-plan update that would guide the city's parks and recreation department for the next five years.

Council on April 6 is expected to vote on a resolution to adopt the plan that has been updated by Pros Consulting Inc.

Leon Younger, president of Pros Consulting, provided an overview of the plan during a March 9 council committee meeting. Pros was hired by the city for $37,000 to update the plan. Pros also partnered with the city in 2006, when the plan last was updated.

Mayor Becky Stinchcomb said the city has had a great relationship with Younger.

"We implemented most of it from (2006)," she said. "I hope the city can adopt this and use it as a guide for years to come."

Younger said many of the 76 recommendations involve ways to increase revenue to support operational costs and to meet standards for programs and park maintenance.

Higher program fees,lower overhead costs

The plan suggests the department increase program fees, reduce overhead and operating costs or a combination of both strategies to achieve an overall cost recovery of 75 percent for recreation services. The net effect of achieving a 75-percent overall cost recovery would reduce the general-fund subsidy of recreation programs and facility use by nearly $200,000, through the generation of new revenue, Younger said.

The increase to cost-recovery levels might need to be achieved over two to three years, allowing for phased implementation of higher fees or cost reductions related to staffing and overhead, he said.

The plan also suggests establishing market-based, nonresident fee rates that could vary from a zero-percent to a 50-percent fee differential between residents and nonresidents based on program demand versus capacity, a general-fund subsidy level of programs and an ease of collection.

The establishment of a "Program Passport" scholarship program also is recommended for low-income children and teens to allow for free participation in core programs.

The plan also suggests the city aggressively market and promote financial opportunities to the private sector to offset costs associated with special events, with the goal to recover 100 percent of costs, reducing the overall subsidy to the department.

'Think broader' to serveneeds, improve city image

Younger said the department has done a good job of implementing the recommendations from the 2006 master plan and could do the same with the most recent update, if given the opportunity.

Younger said the 99-page update introduces a cost-of-service study, a stronger program plan and an updated level-of-service plan. It's based on the department's current operations; however, the community has indicated additional programs and activities are desired, he said.

Younger said the city needs to think broader than the current funding for the system to allow the department to serve additional needs and improve the city's image through well-managed public space.

"Best-practice agencies have some level of dedicated funding that includes a commitment in tax dollars to parks and recreation primarily for park maintenance and capital improvements supplemented with earned-income dollars from user fees, sponsorships and a host of other funding options to increase operating revenue to meet unmet needs in the community," he said.

Long-term planfor aquatic facilities

Younger said parks and recreation staff members are committed to residents' needs, and the master-plan study follows what residents have requested through focus groups, meetings and a citizen survey.

Under Parks & Recreation Facilities, the update suggests developing a long-term plan to ensure the continuation of one or two aquatic facilities in the city.

It also recommends continuing to develop the Big Walnut Creek corridor as a primary greenway feature, with multipurpose trail connections to existing parks, downtown and communities that connect with Gahanna.

In addition, the plan recommends continued consideration of a multigenerational community center for the future as the community begins to support parks and recreation needs through the development of a feasibility study.

'Get Healthy Gahanna'theme established

Among other recommendations is the establishment of "Get Healthy Gahanna" as a major theme that would include fitness expos, community gardens, heart-healthy trails, fitness, walks, runs, hikes and challenges that would motivate residents to become healthier.

The plan also identifies a strategy to keep core programs in adult, youth and teen programs, family programs, special events, cultural arts, environmental education, wellness, aquatics and golf.

It also suggested adding core programs in adult sports, sports tourism, preschool children, fitness and health and wellness.

"The challenge will be to develop a department that can recovery 75 percent of its recreation programs provided through user fees while supporting the other elements of parks, recreation facilities and capital-funding needs from dedicated tax dollars, which will not be easy but is achievable," Younger said. "The department is poised to build on its many achievements, and this master plan outlines the strategy for success."

A plan-implementation task force is being created to ensure that recommendations would be carried out to include community desires.

Parks and recreation director Tony Collins announced the idea for the task force during a February community dialogue about Gahanna pools, parks and the future. He said the task force would include 10 to 12 residents and would serve as a subcommittee of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

Anyone interested in serving on the task force should email parksandrec@gahanna.gov.