UPDATED: Divided City Council Approves Fees For Rec Facilities
With a promise to consider discounts or free access for seniors, the West University Place City Council on Monday voted 3-2 4-1 to approve a fee schedule for the recreation facilities opening this spring. (Please view an explanation of this correction here).
The council will consider the Recreation Center and Colonial Park fees for a second time on Jan. 25, just in time to meet a printing deadline for marketing materials that will promote the Recreation Center, which is scheduled to open the second weekend of April. Council members Steven Segal and George Boehme voted against the fee structure. Councilman Steven Segal voted against the fees.
West U. seniors showed up in force at the council meeting to voice their support for discounted or free senior access. The West U. Senior Board will dedicate its Jan. 14 meeting to the issue, and prepare a recommendation for council.
“It may be we can resolve this issue on a basis that’s fair for the city, fair for the seniors and will make the Parks and Recreation Department work better,” said John Neighbors, co-chair of the West U. Senior Board.
At the Recreation Center, individual residents would pay $30 per month, couples would pay $40 and families would pay $50. Rates for non-residents would be 50 percent higher. Exercise classes and racquetball reservations would cost extra. Walk-in rates for residents would $8 for the whole facility, and $5 for the pool only. Walk-in rates would double for non-residents.
However, Segal said he was concerned that too many non-residents would purchase memberships, crowding out the facility for residents. He asked whether staff could close the facility to non-residents in the beginning to assess the demand from residents.
“That makes excellent sense to us to look at it for two-to-three months,” said Parks and Recreation Director Tim O’Connor.
The idea from the beginning was to bar non-residents from Colonial Park Pool for at least the first year of operation. Individual residents would pay $125 per four-month season, and families would pay $300. People would receive discounts if they were also members at the Recreation Center. Walk-in rates would be $5 for residents of all ages.
The fee structure also includes rates for reserving tennis courts, and renting facilities at the pool, Scout House and the West U. Community Building.
Segal said later that he voted “no” because he had further questions about the Recreation Center fees, what types of swimming benefits would be included with a membership, and how many memberships were assumed in both facilities’ revenue projections.
The Parks and Recreation Department projects revenue at the Recreation Center to be $613,000 in fees, which is about 84 percent of the estimated cost of running the facility. At Colonial Pool, projected revenues from fees are $109,000, which is about 55 percent of the operation costs.
Councilman Boehme voted against the fees because he said they are too high.
Boehme said he mistakenly voted in favor of the fees, when he meant to vote against them. He said they are too high.
“I got to tell you, some of these fees scare the hell out of me,” Boehme said in a workshop before the meeting. He said he’d like to send the rates back to the fees subcommittee for revisions instead of rushing to meet the printing deadline for the Recreation Center’s marketing materials.
But Mayor Bob Kelly said the fees structure was not rushed.
The West U. Parks and Recreation Board several months ago created a subcommittee of residents, board members and city staffers to study other recreation centers’ rates and determine a “fair and simple” fee structure for West U.
The Parks Board hopes the proposed fees will cover 85 percent of the costs of running the facilities. The subcommittee clocked in seven meetings, each lasting from 1.5 to 3 hours, said Board Member Kevin Boyle.
“That’s a lot of time,” Kelly said. “Plus, our staff is very competent and was involved in that process.”
When the Parks Board first discussed the proposed fees on Dec. 2, the fees subcommittee recommended that seniors should not receive a special discount for the facilities. Instead the subcommittee proposed that the city decrease fees for any resident, young or old, who couldn’t afford the full payment.
But subcommittee members changed their minds before the Jan. 6 Parks Board meeting. With a handful of community organizers for West U.’s senior population listening in the audience, Boyle announced the Parks Board would defer to the city council to set discounts for anyone, seniors included.
“I think you did a good job of passing the buck,” said Mayor Pro Tem Bob Fry at the Monday meeting. “This is political.”
O’Connor said that 36 seniors last year took advantage of their free access to the Colonial Park fitness facilities. The number was 43 in 2008, and 39 seniors in 2007.
“I think we’re talking about a negligible amount of money here,” said West U. Senior Kathy Sweeney about waiving fees for seniors. She said she and her sister, also a senior, live together on a fixed income. Her sister needs water therapy treatments, and it’s important that she have access to the pool. The monthly rate for the pair would be $60 to gain access to the Recreation Center.
“This is a tremendous amount of money for us,” Sweeney said.
Note: This story was updated on Jan. 13 around 9:45 a.m. to accurately state the projected revenue for both recreation facilities.
Note: This story was updated again Jan. 14 to correct a mis-reported vote count.