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Hillsborough may expand, not cut back, after-school programs

TAMPA — After warning of cutbacks, Hillsborough County may actually expand enrollment in its after-school recreation programs.

The catch: There likely will be a new weekly fees for parents hoping to send their children to after-school and summer rec programs.

Fees, ranging from $5 to $30 depending on family income, would kick in next year.

County Administrator Pat Bean revealed the proposal during a budget workshop Tuesday, telling commissioners she thinks her staff has reached a solution to an issue that raised the hackles of parents this summer.

Commissioners appeared to like what they heard.

"I'm very pleased with what you've proposed," said commission Chairman Ken Hagan.

Parks officials had proposed turning many of their full-time recreation jobs into part-time work. The proposal unveiled Tuesday would raise enough money through fees to retain most full-time employees.

In public hearings and community meetings, parents have urged county officials not to scale back programs, or to turn the programs over to other organizations, such as the YMCA. Each idea had been proposed.

About 5,600 children participate in after-school rec programs, which have another 2,700 on waiting lists. The program is free, but under the proposal, parents would be charged $5 to $20 a week, depending on income.

Parents with multiple children participating would be eligible for discounts.

Summer school offerings would cost as much as $30 weekly, whereas parents are charged only a $50 annual registration fee now. Nearly 8,300 children enroll in county summer programs each year.

Together, county officials expect the fees to raise $4.9-million. That's less than a third of the programs' estimated $15.4-million costs, but enough to offset the budget cuts the county is absorbing because of voter-approved property tax cutbacks.

County parks director Mark Thornton noted that many other summer and after-school programs cost considerably more.

"I think ours is extremely reasonable," he said.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Hillsborough may expand, not cut back, after-school programs 07/29/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 4, 2008 8:49pm]
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