TAMPA — Three years after dramatic increases in recreation fees led to a public uproar, Tampa officials Monday announced reductions aimed at making city parks and programs more accessible.
The lower fees come as the city faces a possible $30 million budget shortfall, but officials expect the price cuts to bring in more participants.
"I think we will generate more revenue by doing this," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "The fee increases priced a certain segment of citizens out of our parks facilities."
More important, he said, making parks and recreation facilities available to everyone gives at-risk children something to do during the summer.
"If I can keep them in our gymnasiums and recreational facilities, I can keep them out of jail," Buckhorn said.
After fees went up in 2009, many residents complained bitterly. Then program enrollments dropped. At the North Hubert Art Studio, for example, the number of participants dropped 17 percent and never recovered.
In 2010, the city rolled back some of the increases. Buckhorn said the changes announced Monday are meant to reverse the rest.
A city-issued "rec card" is still required to participate in programs, but nonresident fees for the card will drop from $115 to $30 a year per person. Nonresident family fees will drop from $400 to $100 a year.
Over the past year, 14 percent of the city's 8,562 rec card holders lived outside Tampa.
The city also is eliminating seasonal charges for nonresidents. Under the new fee structure, the annual fee generally costs less than the old seasonal charges. Moreover, the seasonal charges required nonresidents to renew cards several times a year.
Officials also expect participation in athletic leagues to increase because the city will begin requiring only a league fee — not a league fee and a rec card.
This idea got a test run this spring when city officials dropped the rec card requirement for youth soccer. Participation jumped 47 percent, from 283 children last year to 416 this year, according to city parks and recreation director Greg Bayor.
As part of the changes, the city said:
• There will be no increase for children and teens participating in camps or after-school activities.
• Park shelter rentals will drop from $75 to $50 for groups of 31 to 50.
• Gym rentals will drop from $125 to $75 per hour.
• Tournament and event rentals at gymnasiums will become more flexible. Users will be charged $200 for a two-hour minimum and $500 as the top all-day fee. Before, the fee was $500 for a four-hour minimum.
City residents will still pay $15 per person for a rec card good at 25 community centers and gyms, 12 pools and four art studios.
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.