In Closed Session

There's been a lot of talk recently, both here and at City Hall, about dedicated funding sources.

That's bureaucratic jargon for money that can only be spent in specific ways or places. The Tidelands Funds are the most talked-about dedicated funding source — that's the money generated along the coastline that must be spent along the coastline.

I've tried to explain that so many times that I've boiled it down to the 12-word definition above. It's actually a lot more complicated than that, but that's all you get today.

Another form of dedicated revenue is generated by enterprise funds. That's another bit of jargon that means the departments that have a commodity to sell, and as such are self-supporting. The big ones are the Harbor, Water, Gas and Airport departments.

City Hall has managed to find ways to tap into those enterprise funds, usually in the guise of providing services. That can be controversial, though, and I don't have room to delve into it here.

Then there is the fee for service concept. That's where all those inspection fees, ambulance charges, recreation signup fees, etc. come in. This type of revenue generation typically takes place in departments interacting with the public — Development Services (primarily the Planning Bureau), Financial Services (where business licenses are handled) and Parks, Recreation and Marine.

The first two examples are perpetually caught between a budgetary rock and hard place. They are tasked by top management to get total cost recovery for services rendered, while at the same time being told by the City Council to be ever more business friendly. For most business owners, charging what they consider to be high fees is most definitely not friendly.

Finally, there are the departments that essentially are paid for by tax revenue — primarily property and sales taxes —that goes into the city's general fund. Think police, fire, libraries, public works, etc. Aside from those departments that make money, the rest of city services also comes from this pot of money. (The Health and Human Services Department is a horse of a different color; it finances most of its operation through county, state and federal grants. It gets a drop of money from the general fund too.) 

Since we are now well and truly into the summer season, I want to focus a bit on the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department's operation.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the concept of total cost recovery and how strict imposition of that approach squeezed special events to the point of extinction. That same philosophy is supposed to apply to recreation services and facilities, with a couple of important exceptions — special treatment is provided to youth and to seniors.

That approach has been key to fulfilling the parks department's mission for decades, if not forever. Providing healthy recreation opportunities to youngsters is a core value, and in more recent years, providing activities and support to seniors has been key as well.

Full disclosure. I was a Parks and Recreation commissioner for 11 years. The last three or four years of my tenure were very long — they were the budget-cutting years of 2009-2011.

In the "good old days," a flush general fund routinely supplemented whatever revenue Parks and Recreation could generate to make sure residents got the best parks and recreation possible. It was so good, Long Beach was named the best parks and recreation department in the country several times.

Then came the Great Recession. We were faced with the disturbing decisions of cutting programs or raising fees. The decision-makers at City Hall dried up the general fund well, and the department tried to make due with things like field lighting fees. Creative solutions ultimately became bare-bones realities.

Finally, in the last couple of years the department has been able to put a little meat on those bones. We're still not back to free sailing lessons or freebies with a sand castle contest (and we likely won't see those days ever again), but the summer recreation program is beefing back up, primarily with general fund support. 

So you're paying for summer recreation (and parks) in Long Beach. Take advantage. You deserve it.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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