Parks and recreation activities in Oro Valley could get more expensive come September.
Recently, the Amphitheater Unified School District put the town on notice that it intends to start charging rent for the use of its facilities beginning Sept. 10.
"It means a fairly significant increase in costs," Oro Valley Parks and Recreation Director Ainsley Legner said.
The town uses district schools for numerous parks and recreation programs. Until now, the town paid the district a nominal fee for the usage, just enough to cover the costs of utilities and custodial services.
Legner said that in past years the fees paid to Amphitheater averaged between $15,000 and $20,000 annually. She estimated rental fees would triple the facilities-related expenses. Those expenses were not in the town's budget.
Citing the 2008 defeat of the town's Naranja Town Site bond election, a proposal that would have funded a 214-acre park with indoor and outdoor facilities, school officials said the district was not in a financial position to continue to give Oro Valley residents nearly free use of school facilities.
"We recognize that the Town lacks sufficient properties of its own with which to serve its constituents, and we understand that the Town has unsuccessfully attempted to resolve that deficiency infrastructure," Amphitheater attorney Todd Jaeger wrote in an Aug. 4 letter. "Unfortunately, however, the continuing deficiency in Town infrastructure cannot be a District burden to bear."
Summer camp programs make up a significant portion of the usage of the school facilities.
Earlier this year, the town council raised summer camp fees in an effort to recapture a larger share of program costs. Fees were raised from $105 per week to $160 for town residents, and to as much as $270 per week for non-residents.
The town also provides children's dance and other classes at some area schools.
"If the costs went up another $40,000, it would be difficult to continue the programs," Oro Valley Town Manager David Andrews said.
Legner said she and parks and recreation department employees plan to study the new costs and determine what would be the best alternative. One possibility Legner expressed would be to find alternative venues for some of the town's recreation programs. Another possibility would be to eliminate some of the most costly or underutilized programs. The department also could simply raise the fees that residents pay for the programs, moving toward a user-fee based system.
Amphitheater officials place the blame for the fees squarely on the Arizona Legislature.
"The bottom line is that with two years running without building renewal funding, we can't afford to let people use our facilities for free," Jaeger said.
Jaeger said the state has never adequately funded its share of building funds according to the formula provided by state law.
The Arizona School Facilities Board was established to administer state funds to districts for building maintenance and new construction.
Prior to the 1998 law, school districts built new facilities and repaired buildings through the proceeds of local property taxes and voter-approved bonds.
A lawsuit brought in 1991 by a group of Arizona districts that serve poor areas said the system did not provide their schools uniform funding for buildings and maintenance. They claimed the state's funding system that relied on district property tax revenues was unconstitutional.
The Arizona Supreme Court agreed, mandating that the state take over funding for school building and maintenance programs to ensure equality. Local property taxes that were previously used to fund such capital costs were phased out.
Amphitheater officials say the Legislature doesn't plan to provide the district its share of facilities funds in fiscal 2010.
District officials further say that since the School Facilities Board was implemented in 1998, the state has shorted Amphitheater by more than $11 million.
Town officials also have felt budget cuts coming from state government. Andrews noted that the town expects to lose out on state-shared revenue and as much as $300,000 in vehicle licensing fees.
"It's tough on everyone, I'm not pointing any fingers," Andrews said.
Amphitheater also has seen declines in funding from the state on other fronts.
School officials say state cuts to its soft-capital budget - money used to pay for educational materials like books - have been cut by as much as 85 percent.
Under the funding formula set by the legislature, Amphitheater would have received about $3.3 million. This year, the legislature cut the funding to slightly more than $519,000.
"We're pushed to the absolute rim in terms of our funding," Jaeger said. "People who use school facilities for non-school uses should pay their fair share."