Council changes recreation fees

Published 7:27 pm Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Effective July 1, area sports leagues using City of Washington facilities will be required to charge each participant a $30 fee to help offset maintenance costs associated with those facilities.

The Washington City Council made that decision during its meeting Monday.

The $30 fee will apply to each participant regardless of whether he or she lives in the city or outside the city. Other fee options considered but not approved included charging participants who live outside the city higher rates.

Although the council had discussed such fees in the latter months of 2014, the discussion Monday was held at the request of Councilman Larry Beeman. Late last year, the council reviewed fees the city charges for area youth sports leagues to use city sports facilities.

The latest change comes after the recreation fee review committee, having concluded its study of the sports facility and other facility rentals charged by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, recommended bringing back a $30-per-player fee (the amount charged prior to the City Council’s approval of the “kids play free” program) as a way of helping offset some of the costs associated with maintaining the sports facilities instead of increasing the use of tax dollars to pay for such costs.

During the Monday meeting, Beeman made it clear he supports a single fee for any participant regardless of where he or she resides.

“What we had previously passed was a split fee between city and county residents. I would like to revisit that and for the council to reconsider that. I would feel better imposing upon the volunteers of the leagues that they do not have to have a split fee but have one fee,” Beeman said. “The reason I way that is we’re asking volunteers to impose a rule that this council has done when they’re not in a position to impose a rule. The dollar amount we can discuss. I’m for $30, but I do not feel at this time we need to have a split fee.”

The revenue from the fees is used by the city to help pay for maintaining city sports facilities, with that cost running about $333,620 yearly, according to a city document. The $30 fee, based on recent participation, would generate just under $50,000, according to that document, or 15 percent of the money needed to maintain the facilities.

Councilman Doug Mercer, noting the council has spent several months discussing such fees, suggested the city consider leasing its sports facilities to the sports leagues for $1 a year, with the provision the leagues pay to maintain those facilities. The council did not act on that suggestion.

Council member William Pitt said the city might need to revisit the issue as budget work continues into the spring in an effort to find a more equitable solution.

Councilman Bobby Roberson weighed in on the issue.

“You can massage these fees all you want to. The bottom line is we’re in the hole over $1 million and changing the fees is not going to move the gap any closer. We’ve got to look at other alternatives than fees inside the city in order to balance the budget. That’s what we’ve got to do. You can talk another six months about the fees, but it’s not going to close the gap on a million dollars in parks and recreation. It’s just not going to do it. So the question we need to answer is where are we going to get the money in order to operate?” he said.