Park fee study moves forward, revenue increasing ideas nixed

ENCINITAS—The City Council unanimously authorized its parks and recreation department to move forward with its ongoing study of its fee schedule, but not before it nixed a controversial appendix that included some revenue-generating ideas that sparked a rebuke from several residents.

The Council received the 140-page report from the parks and recreation staff done in collaboration with Green Play LLC, a Colorado-based recreation consultant firm, which outlines a new method that the city will use to study and determine how park and recreation fees should be set.

Some proposed fee increases include potentially charging organizations for use of the city’s fields, which the city currently does not do, and raising fees for programs that have more individual than communal benefits.

The study, billed as a sustainability study, outlines that the city currently only recovers about 24 percent of the revenue it spends providing parks and recreation programs for residents, and that without further action that subsidy could grow even more over the next few years.

Staff said it would return with a list of recommended fees in the fall that the council could then approve or reject.

Residents, however, were skeptical of the report and an appendix that included a number of revenue generating practices that are used by other jurisdiction’s parks and recreation departments. Additionally, the wording of the staff report gave the appearance that approval of Wednesday’s agenda item could give staff authority to unilaterally raise fees.

Among the concepts that residents spoke against listed in the appendix included park naming rights and selling of ad space at parks, selling non-residents a card that would allow them to access city recreation programs at the same rate paid by residents and the use of parks as a location for cell towers.

“Since when has parks and recreation been relegated to the status of cash cow, for you to milk every last dollar possible?” community stalwart Bob Bonde said. “The people are already giving you over $100 million each year to provide us with the services we want and need to pay down the (millions) in debt that (the city) has saddled us with. You need to receive and file this self-serving plan.”

Bonde went on to call the study “unworkable” and “heartless.”

Marie Dardarian, who frequently speaks at council meetings, echoed Bonde’s sentiments.

“This isn’t San Francisco, it is a little town of 60,000 people,” Dardarian said. “We don’t need to be commercialized.”

The council swiftly voiced their opposition to any fee increases and to the controversial measures outlined in the appendix, and ultimately voted to have the appendix removed from the report.

The council members did, however, like some of the ideas offered up by the report, including cutting programs that replicate activities done by other organizations, both for- and non-profit, rebranding the city’s community and senior center into something more universal and charging non-residents for field rentals for tournaments.

The unanimous vote came after staff assured the council that the council would retain authority to raise fees, and that staff would bring any recommendations back for their vote.

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