“City Government 101” is an ongoing series that debuted in April 2023 and highlights different aspects of municipal government as it pertains to Columbus, Nebraska, in hopes to provide information on how the City of Columbus operates.
Every City of Columbus department head was recently asked some questions in regard to their department, the current fiscal year budget and plans for their department in the upcoming fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2023-Sept. 30, 2024).
DEPARTMENT: Parks and Recreation
DEPARTMENT HEAD: Betsy Eckhardt
(Interview conducted in September 2023)
Q: How many people are in your department?
A: There are 14 full-time staff including myself. The amount of part-time staff varies depending on the season.
Q: How long have you been head of your department?
A: I have only been in this position since mid-July 2023.
Q: How do you think things went for your department in fiscal year 2022-2023?
A: This fiscal year presented a lot of changes for Parks and Recreation. We were a division under the public properties department since its inception in 2020. CP&R has had a lot of growth in the past three years as it pertains to programming. This fiscal year Columbus Parks and Rec was pulled out to be its own department and so far, we are doing good. We have had a large increase in swim lessons in this fiscal year. Parents were and are eager to have this important life-saving skill available for their children, as many kids missed out due to COVID restrictions in previous years. We continue to expand youth, family and adult wellness programming. We have also completed a Master Plan for both Pawnee Park and Gerrard Park. That process took a little over six months to complete. We had various open houses, stakeholder meetings, and community engagement and feel we have a plan that represents Columbus’ vision and needs as a whole.
Q: What were at least two of your department’s biggest accomplishments in the last fiscal year (and why)?
A: First, I would say is our swim-lesson program. We had over 850 participants in this fiscal year. This includes parent child lessons through Level 6. We also introduced more lesson opportunities at the Pawnee Plunge this summer.
The other great accomplishment is the way that the different divisions can come together and form a great team. This really showed on the weekend of June 30-July 2nd. This was a rainy weekend and we were hosting a division of the USSSA Boys State Baseball Tournament. Many other communities hosting this weekend of tournaments had to extend into Monday because of the rain. With team work between the recreation and park staff we were able to get our fields to shed water, dry and host games on the night of July 1st. This ensured that the tournament we hosted was completed on Sunday allowing it to not overflow into Monday.
Q: What are some of the problems your department faced in the last fiscal year and how did you overcome them?
A: Our biggest issue is getting the word out about our activities. This can be hard to as many people stream their music and don’t receive a local newspaper in the same ways they did in the past. We are a young department and many of our programs are new. This means parents aren’t fully sure of what to expect when they send their child to the Aquatic Center for “Corals Class” or to Pawnee Park for summer camp. Word of mouth is always a great tool.
Some of the ways we have overcome this challenge is by being very active on social media and to also get hand out copies of events to the schools. We also heavily advertise at the Aquatic Center through hand outs and brochures.
Q: What are at least 3 major things you’re wanting your department to accomplish in fiscal year 2023-2024 and how is the new budget going to improve that?
A: We are wanting to move forward with any of the items in the Master Plan for Pawnee Park/Gerrard Park. There are monies in the CIP allocated to continuing the study on Memorial stadium. We are wanting to move forward with the Centennial Park splash pad as long as the LWCF grant gets awarded to us.
Q: What can the public expect from your department in the next fiscal year?
A: The public can expect that we will keep them informed to the best of our ability about upcoming projects/programs in the Parks and Recreation department. We will also work to continue to offer youth, family and wellness opportunities that everyone can participate in.
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