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The Baton Rouge Zoo undergoes refurbishing including taking land from Dumas Golf Course for the project Tuesday June 22, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. BREC may roll forward the tax millage at their next meeting to help pay for ongoing projects. Jackson Park in Central is undergoing a renovation as is the Baton Rouge Zoo.

Spending within the city-parish parks and recreation system is expected to increase by nearly 20% next year as BREC continues upgrading the Baton Rouge Zoo and Greenwood Park and rolls forward with a few more largescale facility upgrades and new construction. 

The spending plan Superintendent Corey Wilson presented to BREC's Board of Commissioners this week is about $151 million for 2022 — a 19% increase over the $127 million budgeted for 2021. 

Having spent more than $20 million on capital improvement this year, BREC aims to spend another $40 million in 2022 on major construction that includes a new recreation center at Howell Community Park, expansion at Airline Highway Park and the ongoing improvements at Greenwood Park and the zoo. 

The $40 million also includes a bevy of projects to expand trails and bike paths in East Baton Rouge and address other recreational needs in the community. 

"Last year was the most money I think we've spent in the history of BREC for one year," Wilson told commissioners during his presentation Wednesday night.

The commission will hold a public hearing and consider adopting the 2022 proposed budget on Dec. 15. Wilson said there will be further tweaks to the spending plan up until the board's final consideration.   

While capital improvements make up the lion's share of the budget increase over last year, spending is going up on employees salaries and wages, which sits at around $43.7 million for the 1,100 full-time, part-time and seasonal workers BREC allotted for in 2022 across the recreational system. 

Part of that is due to the commission's decision in 2019 to up starting pay from $8 to $10 an hour for all positions and 3.3% merit increases for full- and part-time employees.

The pandemic significantly impacted BREC's revenue and expenses, but Wilson predicts those effects will even out in 2022 despite continued lags in indoor group activities as the pandemic continues. 

The commission in June elected to roll forward BREC's property tax rates, essentially allowing the system to levy the maximum amount possible for the voter-approved millages, which is expected to generate an extra $4 million. 

Total revenue from property taxes is estimated at $44.2 million in the budget's General Fund with another $11 million projected from self-generated funds in 2022. 

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Total revenue within the General Fund, which covers a majority of the system's operating costs, are projected to be around $67 million.

The system's administration is using $40 million from its healthy reserve funds to finance those projects.  

"As it stands right now, we're budgeting to use $43 million of reserves but we're going to bring that down to maybe $40 million," Wilson said Thursday. "In 2021 we budgeted to use $26 million and it's looking like we'll only use between $12 to $15 million." 

Going forward, Wilson said BREC will start leaning more on its fundraising arms, like Friends of the Baton Rouge Zoo and the BREC Foundation, to provide supplemental funding for its major projects to circumvent using so much of its accumulated revenues for big construction. 

To do so, the system this year will allocate operating funding to both organizations to help them shift their focus toward more robust fundraising. 

An agreement with Friends of the Baton Rouge Zoo has already been reached. Wilson said BREC is working on a similar one with the foundation. 

"Both agreements will involve those organizations presenting budgets to us during our budget period telling us how much they intend to spend, how much they intend to raise and what the gap would be in funding they need our help with," he said. "We working now to figure out what those gap amounts would be."  

The BREC Foundation is a independent nonprofit organization complementary to the parks and recreation system tasked with garnering donations to support its operations. But historically, Wilson said the foundation's donations were mostly for the passion projects of its members. 

Now BREC would have more input into what they raise money for and the additional funds will be used for them to hire resources needed for major fundraising. 

"We've been giving roughly $135,000 annually to them," Wilson said. "Since they've been in existence, they've donated about $5.5 million to us." 

The Friends of the Baton Rouge has a similar role, but geared more toward financial support of the zoo through donor contributions. But that has mostly been them getting to use the zoo facilities to help market and bring visitors to the zoo.  

The new agreement gives BREC a voice in hiring an executive director for the organization that has experience with major fundraising campaigns as well. A position BREC is currently hiring for.  

"We're kinda changing things with both, saying we're giving you this money and we want you to raise money for this project," Wilson said, "giving them more direction than we have in the past." 


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com