Staffing issues are also a prominent concern, with 41.9 percent of respondents indicating this was a top issue for them. Respondents also tended to relate this challenge back to the cuts in funding and/or revenues that resulted from the economic downturn. Many cited that they are being required to "do more with less." Some mentioned that they are attempting to increase their services and offerings, but without additional staff.
In addition to the challenges brought about by staffing cuts, several readers indicated that they were concerned about the effect of an aging staff. As one respondent said, "Quality/knowledge as my experienced staff are getting older and close to retirement," was the main concern, adding, "I am concerned that we cannot hire new staff to learn and develop prior to their leaving."
Interestingly, the third most common concern—marketing facilities and programs and increasing participation, named by 41.2 percent of respondents as a top concern—was also tied back to budget issues by many respondents. "This is the area in our budget that took one of the most significant cuts in the past few years, so our talent in these areas and our presence in the market have been diminished," one respondent explained.
This is a sword that cuts both ways, with budget cuts reducing facilities' ability to do the marketing necessary to increase participation, at the same time that many potential participants have seen their own family budgets cut to the point that they are unable to participate.
More respondents cited safety and risk management as a top concern in 2012 than in the 2011 survey. In 2011, 36.6 percent said this was a top concern. That number rose to 38.3 percent this year. This also ties back to budgets, and to equipment and facility maintenance and staffing issues as well. Obviously, equipment and facilities that are not maintained to a certain standard will begin to fail and can create hazards and additional risk for users. At the same time, staffing cuts can increase risk when fewer employees are able to oversee facility operations.
Many respondents reported that some areas of concern would grow worse over the next several years. These include environmental and conservation issues, legislative issues, accessibility and fitness for older adults.
Many readers provided additional commentary on their concerns about legislative issues. "Unfunded mandates" were cited as a problem by many.
"Passing legislation without realizing what the cost is going to be for the facility or organization" was named as a top issue by one respondent, who added, "More facilities will close rather than abide by the legislation."
Another called this problem legislation "…unfunded mandates to improve equipment or changes to laws for which there is no funding. This, along with aging equipment and maintenance, are major issues."
As has been the case for the past several years, the elephant in the room is the economic downturn and the impact it has had on budgets and resources for the majority of facilities.
"We have continually been asked to do the same or more with less funding," one respondent explained. "We cannot sustain the level of service with the resources we are being given."
Another put it more succinctly: "Shrinking budgets, but no decrease in expectations from leaders and customers."