Participants in various recreational activities in Santa Monica, ranging from adult sports leagues to some after-school programs and lawn bowling, can expect to pay some higher fees.
The Santa Monica City Council voted Feb. 8 to approve fee increases for recreation programs and services of the Community and Cultural Services Department. The fee hikes were presented as part of a mid-year budget review which included proposed budget changes and a five-year financial forecast.
The approved fees will cover 18 of the 33 programs and services provided by the department, including 10 programs and eight permit services. In addition, new fees will take effect for use of the lawn bowling green at Douglas Park, a coaching fee in the Memorial Park gymnasium, a lane fee for non-resident swim teams using the Swim Center for more than 2,000 hours annually, and an administrative fee for processing community events.
The increases, slated to take effect in fiscal year 2011-12, are expected to generate about $350,000 annually in new revenues, said Barbara Stinchfield, Community and Cultural Services Department director. She said that no fee hikes were proposed last year and in most cases, the fees have not been raised in at least eight years despite the fact that many costs have risen significantly.
The department developed the various fee recommendations as part of the city’s multi-pronged strategy to address the projected general fund budget gap over the next five years.
“This is really intended to set a baseline for the future to build on,” Stinchfield told the council.
Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis said though having to raise recreational fees is unfortunate, many of the programs have not seen increases since 2002 and the city is trying to play “catch up” because costs have gone up during that time. While the costs may seem like very large increases to some people, in reality they are relatively modest for most of the programs.
“It’s one of those things where if we don’t raise fees we either have to start cutting back services or we have to start not offering programs,” Davis explained.
Stinchfield said the recreation program fees were based on a community benefits continuum in which those that benefit a larger group are supported more by the general fund, while those with benefits to individuals rely more on user fees. The fees were also compared to similar fees in other jurisdictions, staff said.
The recommendation included a 50 percent discount for the park building meeting room for nonprofit organizations with at least half of its members being Santa Monica residents.
Clay Evans, who has coached swim teams in the city for over 30 years, said a majority of his program’s members are residents and while half may be able to afford the fee increases, the other half would have difficulty.
Rebecca Campbell, another representative of a local swim team, said they understand that the city needs to increase its revenues but the proposed increase is unexpected for many swimmers who “have to watch our pennies.”
Staff said the department understands that some residents may struggle with the fees given the current economic climate and the city will continue to provide a generous financial assistance program for Santa Monica youths and non-resident youths in local schools. The city provides approximately $940,000 in financial assistance to youth programs, Stinchfield said.
Davis said that any program subsidies provided by the city need to be directed toward the people who truly need them. Explaining her support for raising the fees, she said she feels that smaller, incremental fees will be more acceptable to the community now rather than higher fees in the future.
Councilman Bobby Shriver, who had the lone vote against the hikes, said he can understand requiring cost recovery for services such as trash collection, but raising fees for recreation-type services puts him in a bad mood.
“I’ve always had a soft spot for the parks and recreation kind of services that governments provide, and frankly, I think they ought to be free,” he said.
Councilman Kevin McKeown said the reason he supported the increases is because the city has a program of support in place for those who need it. While some can afford to pay higher rates and others can’t, the city as a whole would struggle to support the programs if the fees were not raised, he said.
“By cutting costs and increasing savings, even where it’s tough to do it, we’ll be able to continue providing our residents with the excellent level of services that we in Santa Monica have come to expect,” McKeown said.