Bigger fees for park use possible
Randy Metcalf/The Explorer, Jeff Lesser, a member of the Oro Valley Loop senior softball team, takes a swing at a ball during a game last month. Teams like Loop could face higher usage fees to use fields within the town.

As the state's economy suffers, local governments search for ways to save dollars and cents.

Over the past two years in Oro Valley, that has meant higher development impact fees, more charges to review building plans, and higher prices for recreation activities like summer camp.

Now the Oro Valley Town Council finds itself debating a new fee structure for recreation activities at local parks, an effort aimed at achieving greater cost recovery.

"Now is the time when it's necessary," said Oro Valley Mayor Paul Loomis. "Because we don't have the general fund dollars that we did last year or the year before."

The proposal, discussed at an Oct. 28 council meeting, would revamp most parks and recreation fees, from ramada rentals to ball field charges, to court rentals and the rates charged to swim in the town's pool at James D. Kriegh Park.

User fees at Riverfront Park would remain unchanged because the park was built, in part, using county bond funding. The fees there mirror those at county-operated parks.

Based on recent park-user statistics, town parks and recreation officials estimate the revised fees would bring in about $88,000, an increase of approximately $23,500 from town income of $64,500 last year.

The new fees would be based on various criteria, such as daylight versus non-daylight hours for ball fields, resident versus non-resident status, and for-profit or non-profit organization use.

Maintenance at both Kriegh and Riverfront parks, used for youth sports and adult softball leagues, cost more than $253,000 annually. Ball field upkeep accounts for $152,000. Under the proposed fee structure, to be paid primarily by sports leagues, the town anticipates an annual cost-recovery for ballfield maintenance of $38,000, or about 24 percent. Currently, the town recovers $18,000, or 11 percent.

The biggest changes would apply to pool fees.

Resident and non-profit fees for pool lane rental used for lap swimming would double from $2 to $4 for short course lanes, and from $4 to $8 for long lanes. Non-residents and for-profit groups would face $20- and $40-per-hour charges for the same services.

Parks department officials hope a raft of fee increases can boost revenue associated with the pool by more than $43,000. Annual operating costs of the town pool average about $400,000.

With increased user fees likely on the horizon, is it possible that people would flee Oro Valley parks for less expensive venues in other jurisdictions?

Loomis doesn't think so.

"It certainly is a consideration," Loomis said. "The majority (of proposed fee increases), I believe, are in-line."

Oro Valley Parks and Recreation Director Ainsley Legner said the department worked to keep the proposed fee increases at levels close to surrounding jurisdictions.

"That's what we strive to do," Legner said.

Last year, the town council approved a parks revenue and fee policy that set cost-recovery percentage goals, Legner added.

In addition, Legner said the town has kept the various leagues and other groups that use town parks informed about the impending changes over the past 18 months to minimize the shock of larger fees.

"The leagues are partners with the town," Legner said.

CDO Little League president Clyde Turpin said the proposed fees would add considerably to costs the organization pays the town.

"Our field usage fees would go from $6,300 to $11,700," Turpin said.

The proposed fees also change the criteria for peak and non-peak field hours. Peak hours would apply under the proposal from 5 p.m. and later. Based on the league's field usage last year, Turpin said teams would be charged for 270 hours of peak time. Last year, the league paid for 150 hours of peak time.

Further, Turpin said the revenue and fee policy should recognize youth sports as a community benefit.

"There's a fundamental disconnect or disagreement as I or anyone in youth sports would have with how this policy applies," Turpin said.

He said youth sports should apply to the policy's community benefit clause, which orders cost recoveries of zero to 10 percent from those activities. The fee proposal seeks to recover 24 percent of costs for fields.

Turpin said he appreciates that the town is in a difficult financial situation, but wants the larger benefits of youth sports to be considered.

Amphitheater Unified School District also recently revamped its user fee structure for facility usage. Turpin said the baseball league could again see significant increases from Amphi.

He said last year the league paid the school district $400 for use of fields and facilities. Under the revised fee structure, Turpin said the league would pay $17,000 for the same amount of usage.

Oro Valley isn't the only government searching for ways to trim expenses and bring in more revenue.  The sour economy over the past two years has left many around the state scrambling for solutions to impending budget crises.

"We all realize that we're suffering from the worst economic recession since the Great Depression — at least government is in terms of revenue," said Vic Williams, Republican state representative from District 26, which includes Oro Valley.

As a result, state-shared revenues likely will fall to levels not seen in years.

To make up for declining income to the state treasury, legislators in Phoenix have cut numerous services and increased licensing and other fees almost across the board. Over the summer, legislators raided funds that pay for the state park system, triggering a round of layoffs, limiting of operating hours and closures of some parks.

"We're going to have to rethink government, what government funds and how it appropriates funds," Williams said.

He said the growing popularity of user-fee based government would have some problems and expose certain inequities. But overall, Williams said he favored such a shift.

"The fee-based system helps determine how valuable the services are that need to be provided," Williams said. "This is a good way to measure what services government should continue to provide."

In other areas, state government has increased fees that most residents probably don't realize, but could impact how much they pay for services in the private sector. The state recently increased licensing fees for various types of businesses.

Businesses as varied as pest control to childcare could see increased licensing fees at the state level.

According to some estimates, the cost of a three-year childcare-provider license would jump from $150 to more than $13,000 for larger facilities.

But do the new and increased fees amount to taxes? According to Williams, such fees could be considered taxes.

"It's a user-specific tax," Williams said.

Recent estimates from Oro Valley finance officials show the town anticipates a nearly $1.5 million budget shortfall by the end of the fiscal year. Some town officials speculate privately that revised estimates, due later this month, could show even greater shortfalls.

Without a local property tax, Oro Valley receives the majority of its money from state-shared revenue, including sales tax revenue. In Oro Valley's case, more than 70 percent.

As such, efforts to balance the budget in a difficult economy likely will continue to focus on new fees, larger fees and, at least in Oro Valley, open talk about a property tax.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.