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City program fees could skyrocket

The thunder and lightning outside keeps Andre Arenas, 9, inside Monday at the Loretta Ingraham Recreation Complex in Tampa. Budget challenges will increase the fees at city parks.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

The thunder and lightning outside keeps Andre Arenas, 9, inside Monday at the Loretta Ingraham Recreation Complex in Tampa. Budget challenges will increase the fees at city parks.

TAMPA

To shore up a shrinking budget, Mayor Pam Iorio wants to raise the city's park and recreation fees.

By a lot.

The cost of after-school programs, for example, would increase from $12 a year to $25 a week under her proposal.

The price for summer programs would go from $70 for the 10-week season in 2010 to $55 every week.

Recreation cards for non-city residents currently cost $12 annually. Their price would jump to $115 a year. And a new user fee for city pools would cost $2 for seniors and students, and $4 for adults.

"The services were essentially free," Iorio said. "In this time of cutbacks, we're faced with an issue. Do we get rid of programs? We don't want to do that because people use them. Then we say, okay, let's at least have them try to recover a greater portion of their cost."

Iorio said that years ago when she signed up her own son, who is now college-age, for a city program she was surprised by how inexpensive it was.

"It struck me at the time that it was undervalued. I knew what other camps had cost and it wasn't anywhere close to what any others were charging," she said.

A sliding fee scale and scholarships will help the most financially-strapped families cover the cost of after-school and all-day summer programs.

"If any parent comes to us and says, 'I can't afford to pay this fee,' we will find a way for the child to be in that program," she said. "But most parents know they've gotten a complete bargain for decades in the city. And I think most would prefer the increased cost to dismantling the program."

City officials say the new rates would bring in up to $1.2 million a year. Although the after-school and summer program increases are significant, Parks Director Karen Palus said the fees still represent competitive rates.

Hillsborough County schools charge $48 a week for after-school programs, plus a $30 registration fee.

YMCA after-school programs cost about $52 a week, plus a $40 registration fee. YMCA summer camps cost about $125 a week.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the hikes Thursday.

"Raising fees is a way to keep those programs going and generate a new source of revenue," said Council Chairman Tom Scott. "My question is what about those less fortunate families who are below the poverty levels. What is going to be the impact on them?"

Council member John Dingfelder shares those concerns.

"As long as we're accommodating the needy with sliding fees and we're not turning people away, then I can probably support it," he said. "We need to do everything we can to keep our parks system afloat."

Since 2007, declines in property tax revenues have forced the department to trim more than 200 jobs from its payroll. Programming also has suffered.

Among other changes, the department has cut back pool hours, ended a tennis program at Hillsborough Community College, and closed a plant nursery.

Fees for services throughout the city have been on the rise in recent years.

In 2007, permit fees in the building department jumped by 75 percent for commercial construction and 10 percent for residential projects. Fees were adjusted in 2008, with some increasing again and others going down.

The same year, the City Council approved a five-year, incremental water rate increase that will nearly double some customers' bills by 2012. Under that plan, the average customer will ultimately pay about $22.61 a month for water, up from $11.55.

Earlier this month, the City Council approved a boost in fire rescue rates that will bring in $900,000 a year. Those charges are paid largely by insurance companies.

In September, the council will consider increasing sewer rates by 40 percent over the next three years. The boost means the average residential sewer charge would go up from about the current rate of $33.60 a month to $47.10 in 2012.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

By the numbers

30 cents Current weekly cost of Tampa's after-school program

$25 Proposed weekly cost of Tampa's after-school program

8,233 Proposed percentage increase of Tampa's after-school program

$7 Current weekly cost of Tampa's summer program

$55 Proposed weekly cost of Tampa's summer program

686 Proposed percentage increase of Tampa's summer program

City program fees could skyrocket 07/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 12:18am]
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