East Baton Rouge Parish park managers are proposing to raise admission fees to two popular parks, cut hours for some programs and contract out more operations next year to deal with a tight budget for 2012.
BREC Superintendent Bill Palmer said the park system is being squeezed by higher costs for products and services at the same time that tax revenues are flat.
“Expenses are going up faster than revenues, and we’re having to make adjustments,” Palmer said.
He said BREC managed to avoid layoffs and sought to make changes that would have the least impact on the public in drafting a proposed budget for 2012.
The budget was presented to BREC’s governing board at its last meeting and will be voted on at a Nov. 16 BREC board meeting.
BREC anticipates total revenues in 2012 of $60.4 million — down from the $60.7 million this year, the proposed budget shows.
Most of the park system’s revenue comes from a 14.463-mill property tax. The property tax is expected to generate $48.5 million in 2012, a decrease from $48.7 million this year.
The remaining revenue comes from other sources, including admission fees, facility rentals, grants and interest income.
Palmer said no employee layoffs are called for in the budget, but vacant positions in many areas will be left unfilled and the work hours of part-time and seasonal workers will be reduced.
Admission fees to the Baton Rouge Zoo will be increased by $1.25 at all levels, and charges for tickets to the new Liberty Lagoon water park will be raised slightly.
The admission fees to Liberty Lagoon are being increased by 19 cents to $10 for adults and by 37 cents to $8 for a child less than 48 inches tall. The price will include taxes, decreasing the need for coins in the admission area. The rate for locker rentals at Liberty Lagoon will be doubled to $2.
Palmer said recreational programs and classes offered at BREC centers are also being analyzed and operating hours adjusted so they are staffed at times when they get the most use.
Palmer said classes will be combined in some cases to make more efficient use of recreational facilities and staff time.
“We do not want to cut services to the public and are trying to do it in a way that has the least possible impact on the public,” he said.
Sheila Savoy, BREC’s finance director, said cutbacks for 2012 are across the board, affecting all of the park system’s departments.
“All the departments did a study of all their contract services, the labor budget and identified vacant positions they are not going to refill,” she said.
Savoy said the staff has been instructed to find ways to do more with less and to “use technology to work smarter, not harder.”
Palmer, who is retiring as BREC superintendent in January, said no merit or cost of living increases are included in the budget for BREC employees for 2012.
Longevity increases are budgeted but have been frozen pending a legal opinion on whether they can be withheld, Palmer said.
After 10 years, BREC workers at the top of their pay scale get a 5 percent longevity raise. They receive a 1 percent increase each year after that for 15 years until the total received is 20 percent.
The longevity pay is the same system that applies to city-parish government employees, Palmer said.
He said more services will be contracted out when it looks like it will yield cost savings for BREC. He said a mowing contract program this year exceeded expectations and will be expanded in 2012.
BREC’s situation is different for 2012 than it has been in the past few years because tax revenue is growing at a slower pace due to the economic slowdown, Palmer said.
Meanwhile, inflation is driving up what the agency has to spend on recreational supplies, food for animals at the zoo, repair parts and materials, fuel for vehicles and other operating expenses, Palmer said.