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Hillsborough County raises summer camp fees

Twins Kevin and Matthew Hill will spend their summer days shooting hoops, playing computer games and running around with friends.

The 10-year-olds are regulars at the Northdale Recreation Center, one of 42 sites to offer summer camps countywide.

"It's a great program and it's convenient and it's really still affordable," said their dad, Pete Hill, a pharmaceutical sales representative from Odessa. "But no matter who you are, (the increase) still hits your wallet."

For the second straight year, the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department has raised the price of its summer camp program in the face of a still struggling economy.

Fees for this year's summer camps, which started Monday, are as much as $480 for 10 weeks of care, though some families receive discounts or scholarships based on income. Though the cost remains less than some private camps, it is up significantly from 2008 when the county charged $5 a week or $50 for the entire program. Last year, the base cost was $300 for the summer.

"(County) commissioners basically said, find a way to have the program, but we really can't give you any more money," said parks and rec spokesman John Brill. "Our alternative was to charge a higher fee than we did in 2009, so that's what we did in order to survive."

The county has about 4,000 registered campers so far this summer and has collected about $319,000. In 2008, the county collected $421,957.

"I don't expect it to pay for the program, but it definitely helps," Brill said. "Anything we get is better than what we had."

Another big difference this year is that the county's summer program is now officially run as a licensed child care facility.

The county spent about $150,000 to meet state and county licensing requirements such as training and certifying all 260 staffers and renovating buildings. This summer, officials must follow strict ratios, which means they cannot take more than 25 children for every one camp counselor. In 2008, about 8,000 children participated. The county expects to serve about 6,200 children this summer.

"(The new fees) are a pretty dramatic increase for people and we're assuming that's why (enrollment) went down," Brill said.

The summer programs are still run by county staff and extra part-timers, Brill said.

He stressed that without the latest fee increases, the county would have not only shut down the summer programs, but also considered closing county parks two days a week and eliminating jobs.

However, residents told commissioners they wanted the same level of care and quality programming for their children and they were willing to pay for it.

"By raising rates, we were able to keep the services the way they were," Brill said. "Now it's time to see if those people are going to step up and pay."

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)909-4613 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

Hillsborough County raises summer camp fees 06/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 2:40pm]
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