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Tampa mayor agrees to roll back controversial recreation fees

TAMPA — For months, a parade of parents and senior citizens made their case to Tampa City Council members, telling them that new park and recreation fees were pricing them out of vital programs.

Council members pledged to lower the fees.

Now Mayor Pam Iorio agrees that's what needs to be done.

In a memo to the council this week, she said the 2011 budget will roll back the fees for children's summer and after school programs, classes for seniors and open swimming to their 2009 levels. The new fees will take effect Oct. 1.

"The mayor saw the handwriting on the wall and saw the council was going to roll the fees back," council Chairman Tom Scott said. "It was a consistent theme of our meetings over the last two months."

Still in place will be a $15 annual fee that all Tampa residents will have to pay to use city recreation facilities and a $115 fee for nonresidents.

Last year, at Iorio's request, the council approved a proposal to raise park and recreation fees, some by massive amounts. The cost of after-school programs increased from $12 a year to $25 a week, an increase of more than 8,000 percent. The weekly price of summer programs skyrocketed from $7 to $55.

The goal was to shore up a city budget that had a $51 million shortfall.

The higher park fees, which went into effect last October, were on track to bring in more than $2.2 million in 2010, more than double the revenues for 2009.

But residents rebelled, telling the City Council that low-income parents could no longer afford to send their children to city programs, which would lead the kids to get into trouble on the streets. Senior citizens told stories of once-bustling recreation centers echoing with emptiness. Enrollment in programs plummeted.

In February, council members said they had made a mistake by approving the fees.

But Iorio and parks director Karen Palus promised that no children would be left out of programs because of financial restraints, talking about sliding scale fees and beefed-up scholarships.

Still, in e-mails and phone calls and at City Council meetings, park and recreation users continued to blast the fees.

At a meeting last month, council member Mary Mulhern said it seemed that the only way to resolve the issue was to "just start over again with the fees."

Iorio got the message. The rollbacks will be included in the budget she presents to the council on August 12.

"It's a great example of how citizens' input can really affect local government," Mulhern said. "All those people came out and spoke about the need for those programs, and the City Council and the mayor responded."

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

Tampa mayor agrees to roll back controversial recreation fees 07/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 9, 2010 11:37pm]
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