April 20, 2011; Source: Fresno Bee | Fresno may be a harbinger of the joint crises of municipal governments and their nonprofit partners.  Fresno’s disastrous FY2011 budget called for the closing of 10 of 17 community centers unless nonprofit partners could be found to operate the facilities. The deal would be that nonprofits would maintain and operate the centers, including providing programs, and the city could reduce its contribution to pay only for gas, electricity, water, sewer, and garbage services. 

The ten slated for closing would be candidates for nonprofit operations but the other seven were deemed “flagship” centers that the City would still staff and operate through the Parks and Recreation Department.  Among the initial nonprofit partners selected were Reading and Beyond  to run the Einstein Park center, United One Productions to run the Mary Ella Brown center, and First Baptist Church which pledged to take on programming at Lafayette Park. 

Several months later, the flagships are taking on water.  In April, the City began parceling off its flagship centers, including the Mosqueda Center to be also run by Reading and Beyond.  Now it is testing the waters to sound out nonprofits for most of the other community centers.

Fresno’s financial problems are legion, but Fresno’s outsourcing trend looks like it may continue in the long run.   Are nonprofits in the region any more financially flush to take on major new programs and facilities than the city itself?  How much more of the city’s facilities and programs will be outsourced to nonprofits in the hope that nonprofits can find moneys that the city government can’t?—Rick Cohen