aving $10 might not seem like much, but when you multiply that by hundreds of employees over the course of nearly a year, it can spell huge savings.
The Genesee County Parks and Recreation Commission in Flint, Mich., managed to save $167,000 in fuel, office supplies, electricity, postage, uniforms and telephone charges—after expenses—over a span of 10 months. The six-figure savings exceeded expectations of roughly $40,000 that the commission initially was hoping to save.
"We were astounded at what we saved in office supplies alone. We have been through budget reductions, like most public agencies have in response to the economy. We have been through budget cuts for several years now," said Amy McMillan, director of the Genesee Parks and Recreation Commission. "We are the largest county park system in Michigan, but our budget is nowhere near the largest."
The commission began the savings initiative in February 2009. The goal was to save jobs and preserve park district services for Genesee County residents. McMillan worried that losing staff would result in park closings, an unacceptable outcome. So, thousands in cost savings meant that jobs and park services were saved, too.
"We started in late February of 2009. [Our] savings initiative in March was implemented, and then over the course of the summer. And so, that's when some of the changes went into place," McMillan said, adding that 25 full-time staff members and 220 seasonal employees were involved with the initiative.
Preliminary discussions for a savings campaign involved the input of parks and recreation staff. McMillan asked the staff to think of ideas they could implement that would each save the commission $10, which seemed like a feasible amount and a good benchmark, seeing as it is the cost per hour of the average seasonal employee there.
To figure out the best ways to save $10, the commission held a brainstorming session during which staff members broke off into groups to try to come up with 50 ideas in 60 minutes.
"They came up with 87," McMillan noted.
Park district staff generated practical ideas to help save money. For instance, cell phones used by seasonal staff were put on "vacation" mode to save on monthly fees. Computers and typewriters also were turned off at night to save on electricity. Even changing the default to black on the color copier saved money by eliminating expensive color printing. Also, staff members emptied out their desks and offices of supplies that they didn't really need so that other staff could use them.
"We each came up with ideas, ones that were easy for us to implement. It's one of the challenges facing us now. You have to have an immediate return on investment; not something that's going to take 10 years," McMillan said. "We assigned specific issues to specific staff members, and made them responsible for carrying those out."
For example, the commission's seasonal clerical aide has made it her mission to essentially "own the supply line," McMillan said.
"If you need packing tape, you will get the generic brand [from her]," she added. "And, rather than require our park maintenance staff to wear uniforms, we let them wear jeans now. We save on the cost of wearing work pants. All of those things were give and take, and our customers never noticed the difference. Everyone was still dressed neatly. The cost savings have been tremendous."
In addition, the commission decided to include a "Grow Not Mow" strategy where the natural features of parks—which encompasses 11,000 acres of county parkland—were enhanced, thus reducing the need for certain areas to be mowed regularly.
"This had the effect of providing some prairie-like areas that permit different types of flowers to grow and support some wildlife. We also planted a large, previously open field area, bordering one of our properties, with sunflowers, which provided a nice visual image, food for wildlife and will reseed," McMillan said.
Moreover, one extra day was added to the routine mowing schedule to save on fuel and labor.
"Adding one day to our mowing cycle did not affect the appearance of our parks or our customers' appreciation of them," she said. "It's made a difference to our employees. These are all little things that have [ended up] being a great program for us."
Finally, the overall economic impact of staff and seasonal employees earning a paycheck also has been gratifying. In other words, the $167,000 that keeps staff members employed, in turn, enables them to buy groceries, pay for gas, pay their rent or mortgage, and take their family out for dinner. As a result, it keeps the local economy thriving.
"[This initiative] was achieved as a direct result of employees being involved, personal responsibility for making that happen," McMillan added. "So, I always tell people that I'm the luckiest county parks director in the state of Michigan."
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