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Craig Barker

Just like so many other communities across the country,Destin, Fla., is facing significant budget challenges. But Mayor Craig Barker, who also owns Kore Gear Inc., a local fishing reel technology and design firm, says that thanks to some careful planning and foresight, Destin has not had to cut recreation service standards yet.

?I?ve seen [other local] officials want to rush off and build something quickly,? Barker says. ?But we?ve been very careful not to build a [new] facility without a very thorough understanding of [all costs involved].?

When it comes to aquatics, that?s meant collaborations with outside partners including state and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations. The Destin community swimming pool was a joint effort with the local branch of the YMCA and Barker himself championed a partnership with a local state beach to allow free access to the state facility for residents who purchase beach access decals. More recently, officials began working on partnership that would give boaters free access to sewage pump-out services.

All of these arrangements have meant financial savings for the city and its residents, who value their quality of life. That quality-of-life factor is something Barker says officials looking to cut recreational budgets for amenities such as pools need to keep in mind. A significant reduction in recreation options could have long-lasting impact.

?When I think of what a community offers, I think of the quality of life services represented in large part by recreational amenities,? Barker says. ?If community leaders want to position their locale ahead of others, they need to look at how opportunities for recreation stack up from a citizen and visitor perspective. The national lists comparing different municipalities definitely consider recreational components in the rankings.?

That said, Barker isn?t pretending he hasn?t had to make some tough choices. Services and expenditures were prioritized according to need and a hiring freeze was implemented. The goal was to eliminate waste by increasing productivity and improving efficiency. To help policy makers understand the value of available aquatics services, pool operators should take time to collect and present statistics and data that demonstrate how patrons utilize and need that facility, Barker adds.