Sunday, March 6, 2016

Public Recreation

Growing up in an inner city neighborhood in Brooklyn NY, public recreation programs were based in each community with various church leagues, PAL ( Police Athletic Leagues), maybe a YMCA, public parks and playgrounds and finally the playgrounds, gyms and fields of the many public schools. Every neighborhood had a public park. Some were not safe to venture into after dark, but we never lacked for a place to play sports. Of course, back then we did not have video games, only had five channels on TV ( mostly still in black and white) and Al Gore hadn't yet invented the internet, so we were outdoors as much as possible. Stickball, stoopball,  and other " street games" were daily events until the sun went down. Public recreation was important back then. Is it still important today even in a small town in NH?

According to this paper published by the National Parks and Recreation Association in 2010 "The provision of park and recreation opportunities for their own sake lacks political clout. Many taxpayers are not frequent users of these opportunities and, thus, have difficulty understanding why they should support them. Elected officials and taxpayers typically regard park and recreation services as discretionary: “they are nice to have if we can afford them after we have budgeted for the core services"

The UNH Feasibility Study in the fall of 2014, asked these survey questions during the public input session at the MA Cafeteria:

  • It is reasonable to allocate tax resources to make the fees for Town recreation programs and services affordable for Town residents (e.g. seniors on fixed incomes, families with children, households with lower incomes)? 63% agreed. 
  • It is reasonable for the Town to allocate tax resources for the development of parks and recreation facilities and amenities? 57% agreed. 
  • It is reasonable for users to pay a fee to participate in Town recreation programs and services? 82% agreed.
  • It is reasonable for users to pay a fee for Town parks and recreation facilities and amenities? 64% agreed. 

Of significance is that of these participants (133 in total) only 7 (5.6%) were under the age of 41 and 74% were 56 and older. That is especially significant because the survey questions were answered live with the use of the iClicker for instant results. Clearly, the audience was overly representative of the older demographic and severely underrepresented of our younger demographic. According to the 2014 US Census estimate, 51% of our residents were under 55 years of age.
Of additional interest was that 64% of the participants did not participate in any recreation programs during the year.

And yet, there were clear majorities in favor of supporting and paying for recreation facilities and activities.

One possible conclusion that can be drawn then is that the majority of citizens in our small town do support paying for public recreation and facilities. Another conclusion is that data such as this is what drove the UNH team to make this recommendation: "Prepare a warrant article for the development of a new indoor recreation center and gym facility."