Comparing Apples To Grapes

It really irritates me when I hear people compare municipal recreation departments to commercial businesses. If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times regarding government operations, especially during the past two or three years of financial crisis: “If this was a business you’d never survive!”

I don’t think one can make an apples-to- apples comparison because they serve such vastly different purposes. Government recreation exists to serve the needs of taxpaying citizens with wholesome, affordable programs and activities; business exists to sell customers something they may or may not need or want at a price they may or may not be able to afford.

The key words here are “citizens” and “customers.”

Public administrators serve citizens who pay taxes with the expectation of service--I suppose you could say their taxes are their “membership cards.” Of all the other government services, I think this is especially true for parks and recreation departments.

We will never make a profit; it’s just not how we’re built.

While we may engage in some similar activities as business, such as marketing, we do it with a totally different intent. We can generate revenue to help offset costs, but can someone show me a recreation department that’s covering or exceeding its costs with revenue?

I don’t think it exists!

If I am wrong, I’d love to hear about it. I am always open to learning new things. Anybody out there know of a municipal or county recreation department that’s breaking even? I’d like to know how they do it.

Chime in, give your opinion, blow off a little steam, cut loose--foot loose … oops, showing my 1970s era again … anyway, what do you think? Can you make a fair comparison between public recreation and commercial business?

Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail