TAMPA — As residents spoke out Thursday against fee increases for parks and recreation programs, Tampa City Council members promised to look for ways to make the facilities more affordable to seniors, children and the disabled.
Senior citizens, residents and a city official reported noticeable declines in participation at recreation centers, camps and other city programs since fees were raised last year.
Council members recommended rolling back fees entirely or increasing program enrollment and lowering per-person costs.
"I'm hoping that they get something done," said Sarah Jones, 77, who uses the David Barksdale Senior Citizen Center. "I'm happy with the outcome today."
Santiago Corrada, the city's neighborhood services administrator, said the bad economy and resulting cuts made it difficult to continue subsidizing park access and recreation programs.
Corrada said he would work with community representatives to make recreation facilities more widely accessible. The "parks and recreation department cares about our children, about our seniors, about our community," he said.
City officials are expected to present a progress report to the council July 15.
Earlier this week, seniors at the Barksdale center sent a petition with more than 250 signatures to Mayor Pam Iorio, calling for a sliding fee structure. Under the current system, city residents pay $15 annually for a recreation card, while nonresidents pay $115. In the past, the card cost $12 for anyone who used amenities such as fitness centers.
"The center is but a shadow of its former self," said Emilie Lundy, who teaches free dance classes at Barksdale and has seen a drop in participation.
Resident Susan Greenbaum, an anthropology professor at the University of South Florida, said the fee increases are regressive, hitting "the neediest the hardest." In the absence of access to after-school programs, children are more likely to get injured, arrested or molested, she said. Greenbaum proposed that the free and reduced lunch program be used to identify families most in need of financial help.
Camp at city recreation centers used to cost $70 per child for the entire summer. The current full price is $55 a week per child.
In other business, the council also moved forward a plan by Wright's Gourmet House to tear down a house it owns behind the South Tampa restaurant and build a 40-space parking lot. Council member Mary Mulhern, who voted against the measure, and several neighbors spoke against granting Wright's the special-use permit. The parking lot will lead to increased noise and lower property values, they said.
Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or email@example.com.