Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn made a sensible decision to roll back fee increases for the city's parks and recreation programs. If well marketed, the change could bring hundreds if not thousands of people back to enjoy the city's rich offering of sports, the arts and educational activities. And more participants would be good for both civic life and the city's bottom line.
The city raised the fees in 2009 in an effort to help balance the budget during the height of the recession. Residents complained, and at some parks enrollment dropped sharply. The city undid some of the increases in 2010, and Buckhorn's measure would reverse nearly all the rest. It will be easier and cheaper for people to rent park facilities, participate in group sports and buy annual passes.
Local governments across the nation have cut spending on parks, libraries and other cultural facilities out of economic necessity in recent years. And Tampa has juggled like every other community. But it makes sense, after the experience of the last two years, for the city to change tack and explore whether a new pricing scheme could get more bodies in the doors. For many low-income households, these programs are a lifeline that allows access to safe, productive and affordable recreational programs. And the parks and recreation centers are also havens for many at-risk youth who would otherwise be on the streets.
Tampa residents have every reason to want their parks and recreation centers utilized to the fullest. These centers build a sense of community, they enrich neighborhoods and they enable people from all walks of life to participate in everything from sports and fitness programs to art and life skills training. The city should review the fees on a regular basis to ensure there is some balance between the cost of the programs and the larger public benefit. But Buckhorn was right to chart a course toward expanding enrollment, especially in these difficult economic times. He should build on the attractive pricing by ensuring that the programs are high-quality, offered at convenient times and available citywide.