The people who use parks and recreation centers and programs in Fairfax County are not as diverse a group as the county as a whole, and a report issued last week has a plan to address the problem.
The study, commissioned by the Fairfax County Park Authority, found that “FCPA’s recreation participation” — in programs such as classes, rec center memberships, summer camps and golf courses — “skews wealthier and whiter than both the population of Fairfax County and participation in General Fund programs like RecPac,” a subsidized summer program for kids, the report says.
For example, the report finds that while 40 percent of the county has a household income over $150,000, 71 percent of summer camp families make that much. And while 50 percent of the county is white, 79 percent of rec center members are.
The report said that’s largely because of how much emphasis the parks authority places on fees charged to users of their programs. Revenue Fund programs such as those listed above have to charge enough money to cover 100 percent of their costs — not only staff and equipment costs, but all operating expenses such as building maintenance and administrative staff.
All told, much more of the authority’s operating budget — 59 percent — comes from fees, a much higher proportion than parks and rec agencies in other areas.
The report suggests a few remedies. For one, the “cost recovery” target for various programs should be changed to reflect the “community value” of the program. For example, swimming lessons for kids, with its health and safety benefits, could aim for 25 percent cost recovery, while one-on-one personal training sessions, which mainly benefit the person taking them, could stay at a 100 percent target.
The second suggestion from the report calls for a sliding scale for many FCPA programs. For example, the School Age Child Care spring break program already uses a sliding scale; the fee for the five-day program ranges from $301 to $11, depending on household income.
The report also calls for flexible vouchers that could be used toward the fee for any FCPA program, ranging from $200 to $1,000 and depending on factors such as participation in school lunch programs and disability payments.
The parks authority says all the steps together would cost about $22.6 million, though it stresses that it is not asking for that money yet. The next step is community outreach that will last through the summer, the report said, adding that it won’t be the “standard outreach” but will involve Fairfax County Neighborhood Community Services and their Inclusive Community Engagement team.
‘Time to Look at the Whole Structure’
At last week’s Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting, Stan Wall, of HR&A, the urban development consulting firm that conducted the study, said the park authority’s model came from a “different time period,” WTOP reported, while Chief Equity Officer Karla Bruce told the supervisors that was no accident: The authority was created in the segregated 1950s, and “as many of the actual parks came to be, Black people were prevented from being able to enjoy the benefits of those parks.”
Board Chairman Jeff McKay said, “The challenge we have now is how we get to a better system that is more equitable,” WTOP reported, while board member Pat Herrity said it was “time to look at the whole structure, the revenue model, the separate authority, as we move forward.”
Feature image, courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority
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