Technical Corner

How Will Inflation Impact Recreation in 2023

January 31, 2023

Our news appears to have a regular line-up of elected officials speaking to the fact that the taxpayer cannot afford an increase that reflects inflation and that they plan on reviewing the budget to find savings.  In my past experience, this is code for recreation budgets will once again be under attack. Recreation is a soft, yet vital service, that has limited direct regulatory controls. That is not to say that there is no legislative responsibility but rather that the legal requirements have a lot more flexibility than other departments. I am regularly contacted by ORFA members with the question “what are the required staffing levels and skills needed for our facility”? The answer is somewhat simple – if the ice sheet refrigeration plant is not over 200-hp and if you do not have aquatic infrastructure having a water depth of 0.75 metre or less, there is no certified staff requirement. This same aquatic facility would need a designated pool operator that is trained but even than, what that training is, will be open for interpretation.

Beyond these types of operations, nowhere does it state that there needs to be staff on site in a recreation facility. This would seem unreasonable, and most owners would not operate in this manner. However, many of these same owners have no issue opening the same doors with staff who are not properly trained to be in care and control of the operation. This is where the budget starts to come into play as elected officials try and keep inflation in check. Other services such as water and EMS are strictly governed and require compliance. The lights and heat in all buildings need to be kept on and insurance must be paid. All of these costs have continued to increased based on an inflation rate. The same applies to recreation services hard costs – they have all increased at least by inflation, if not more. Unions will be eager to discuss wages as contracts end. And users do not want to pay more for their recreational experience. It’s a financial mind field that has to be carefully walked.

The recreation industry has evolved. Often ORFA refers to “facility management as asset management” with the sidebar of being a business manager. Municipal recreation has the luxury of having a silent money partner when financial matters get out of hand.  Terms such as “reserve funds” or “emergency support” are floated, when in reality, it is tax payer money that has been put aside that is being used. Consider all the private recreation opportunities that are available in a community such as golf courses, ski hills, bowling alleys, dance clubs, and fitness centres who are under the same inflation pressures without a silent money partner. These same recreation operations will also have one additional expense that municipal operations do not, taxes.

Recreation has always been a soft service and therefore an internal financial target by senior administrators or elected officials. However, today’s properly trained recreation facility manager should be able to create a solid business case to support the needs of their department. Aging infrastructure requires more attention. Emergency management is critical. The demand for safe, clean, and disinfected buildings has never been so high. Facility managers and owners will face tough choices on the best way to allocate budgets and resources to safely and efficiently operate. The ORFA Certified Recreation Facilities Professional (CRFP) designation pathway has been designed to help prepare the next generation of practitioners for these challenges. Each learning module to obtain a CRFP professional designation has been designed by seasoned recreation professionals based on their experiences to assist the next generation of practitioners. It is impossible to maintain any infrastructure without the proper tools. The CRFP designation is considered an essential instrument towards this goal. Inflation is a fact of life – it will not go away. Understanding how to present facts surrounding the safe operation and asset management of these investments is an essential skill that can only be obtained through proper training.

    Comments and/or Questions may be directed to Terry Piche, CRFP, CIT and Director, Training and Research Development, Ontario Recreation Facilities Association

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