Santa Monica May Increase Recreational Use Fees

Monday, 24 Jan 2011, 11:00:00 PM

Parimal M. Rohit

City Hall is contemplating a plan to increase fees for recreation programs and facility permits, potentially resulting in nearly $400,000 in additional revenue. According to officials, the fee increase is necessary to prevent cuts in light of a growing budgetary gap as revenues have been insufficient to offset increasing costs.

If approved by the City Council, those that participate in recreational events within City limits or seek to obtain facility-use permits in Santa Monica may pay an additional 10 to 30 percent or more above current rates for most activities and permits.

Neil Carrey, chair of the parks and recreation commission, said the fee increases are necessary from a City budget standpoint, but would not be overly burdensome for local patrons of affected programs.

For example, a adult resident would be expected to pay a $3.25 daily entrance fee for recreational/lap swimming at the Santa Monica Swim Center if the proposed increases were enacted – which is 30 percent more than the current cost of $2.50 per daily entry.

Similarly, the adult drop-in daily entrance fee for use of Memorial Park Gym, which has remained the same since fiscal year 2003-2004, would increase 25 percent from the current cost of $2 to the proposed amount of $2.50.

“I believe the fee increases are modest and – in this economic climate – needed. The City subsidizes a substantial amount of the costs and will still do so after these increases,” Carrey told the Mirror. “Because the costs will still be very reasonable, I do not believe it will have much impact on use. My only criticism is the increases for nonresidents should have been higher.”

Barbara Stinchfield, director of cultural and community services, said the proposal was drafted as part of an effort to bridge the City’s budgetary gap within its general fund. By enacting the proposed fee increases for programs serving select groups, such as private parties at a City park or lawn bowlers at Douglas Park, will help the City maintain general fund subsidies directed toward free programs and activities providing a “broad community benefit,” including senior events and playground usage.

“The intent of the proposed new recreation pricing policy is to create a consistent, equitable framework for establishing recreation fees that provides the most General Fund support for those programs that provide the broadest community benefit to residents of Santa Monica and that relies more on specific user fees for those programs that provide targeted benefits to specific user groups or individuals,” Stinchfield told the Mirror.

While residents and non-residents alike will be spending more money to participate in activities and events in Santa Monica, it is anticipated City subsidies set aside for such programs and permits will decrease, albeit at relative lesser percentage rates than the fee increases to users, according to the report.

Stinchfield pointed out the staff report took into consideration several factors before the fee increases were proposed, “The project team reviewed a total of 19 recreation programs and fourteen permit services.  Increased fees are being proposed in 10 programs and 8 permit services.”  

The proposal for increased fees is expected to go to the City Council for approval at its Feb. 8 meeting.

Council member Kevin McKeown noted the very real budgetary constraints observed in the staff report, but said it was important to consider the equally real impact of increased fees on working families.

“Stark budget realities make it clear we must find ways to recover more of the costs for services the City provides to residents and others, as we can no longer subsidize everything out of the general fund. I want to be very careful, though, to evaluate whether certain fee increases could actually create new and greater problems,” McKeown noted, questioning the impact of fee increases for after-school programs on participating parents and students.

McKeown also expressed concern over the “impact of eliminating the ‘resident non-profit’ category for renting community rooms in our parks.”

Activities directly affected by the proposed fee increases include: recreational swimming and aquatics at Santa Monica Swim Center; adult sports leagues; gymnasium entrance fees; CREST (Childcare, Recreation, Enrichment, Sports, Together) childcare, enrichment classes, and youth sports leagues; non-profit sports groups activities; tournament events; Camp Santa Monica and Santa Monica Sports Experience; Rosie’s Girls; and increases in permits for park use, community rooms, and sports fields, among other activities.

In all, the total anticipated revenue from the proposed increased fees for programs and permits is $372,232, or a 9.5 percent “total revenue increase” compared to what the community and cultural services department previously earned, according to City staff’s analysis. The projected increase in revenue did factor in anticipated decreases in citywide programs and permit requests.

“It is important to note that a significant number of the fee increases are the result of applying cost of living increases to programs where fees have not been raised in eight years or more,” Stinchfield added. “The proposed policy results in revenue increases that are justifiable and equitable.  They would generate revenues to help the City reduce the significant, growing budget gap in the general fund and also would prevent cuts to these important community programs.”

Still, while staff projects nearly $400,000 in addition revenue with the proposed fee increases, McKeown hoped both the city council and parks and recreation commission will weigh both sides of the issue before coming to a final resolution.

“Higher fees for some of our City services seem inevitable, but I hope ... [we] will look closely at the impacts, in the context of what pricing services out of reach of those in need might really mean,” McKeown told the Mirror.

The 60-page staff report also compared similar program and permit fees in neighboring and nearby communities, such as Venice, Torrance, and Carson, among others, in its analysis.

The fee increases were proposed despite the passage of the Nov. 2 ballot proposition Measure Y, which increased the sales tax within Santa Monica by one-half percent and forecast an estimated $12 million in revenue to the City.

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