FOR MOST PARK AND RECREATION AGENCIES throughout the country, life during the late 1990s through mid-2000s was good--very good. These were the high times of economic prosperity, particularly as it related to the "boom" years of property tax growth, fueled in large part by a then thriving real-estate industry, now gone bust. In Florida, during its 2007-2008 fiscal years, as experts nationwide toyed over the chances for a real-estate-bubble burst, and the first palpable signs of a weakening economy were felt with increasing food prices and a very real gas price crisis, the Miami-Dade Park & Recreation Department experienced a strong foreshadowing of difficult times ahead. How it survived and even succeeded during the first wave of drastic county government budget cuts--to the tune of a $17 million cut to parks--and the passing of the storewide Amendment 1 property tax cut reform bill was truly a feat the lessons of which we would like to share with other P&R agencies during these austere times, when even the California park system faces possible closure.
Consisting of 258 parks and more than 12.600 acres, serving more than 25 million people annually, Miami-Dade Parks. a three-time National Gold Medal Award winner and an accredited agency, is arguably, one of the largest, most diverse park systems in the nation. It is comprised of a variety of revenue enterprises including golf courses, marinas, campgrounds, a gun range, and performing arts auditorium; playgrounds: athletic fields: nature preserves; environmental restoration; beaches: the Miami MetroZoo and Deering Estate at Cutler attractions; the Crandon Tennis Center home of the Sony Ericsson tennis tournament: summer camps; after-school programs; sports development; programs for people with disabilities and Seniors; and more. As the South Florida tax base began to erode two years ago, Miami-Dade Parks quickly realized a need to transform itself from a provider of facilities and services to a facilitator of such.
We rebounded by accelerating our strategic business approach to P&R, streamlining and honing best-business practices both internally and externally. Our efforts were validated in June when we were presented with the 2009 Governor's Sterling Award by Florida Governor Charlie Grist and the Florida Sterling Council, recognizing organizations and businesses in Florida that have successfully achieved performance excellence within their management and operations. It marked the first time a P&R agency in the state received the honor. The Sterling is the state's equivalent of the Malcom Baldrige Award.
Today, we are facing the second consecutive budget-cut wave and the most severe yet, in the midst of a national economic crisis, this time calling for a $22 million cut to the Miami-Dade Parks budget and the loss of 222 fulltime positions and nearly 300 part-timers--a quarter of our workforce--steeply impacting our service-delivery capacity. …