Tampa Mayor wants to reduce parks & rec fees despite budget deficit

06/11/12 Janelle Irwin
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If Mayor Bob Buckhorn gets his way, residents in and around the city of Tampa won’t have to pay as much to use some park services. In a press release Monday, Buckhorn announced a reduction in fees for services like gymnasium and shelter rentals. Greg Bayor, the newly appointed director of Tampa’s Parks and Recreation said the department needs to encourage more use by people who live outside city limits.

"I can tell you from our perspective, we’ve seen a significant drop off. When the fees went up we lost the non-residents and we need the non-residents to support our programs."

In 2009, city officials raised the cost of getting a Rec Card to $115 annually per non-Tampa resident. Based on the mayor’s proposal, they would only have to pay $30. Residents would continue paying half that. Bayor said the cards are required to use many city Parks and Recreation services and facilities.

"We’ve had a total of 8500 folks with Rec cards in the past year. Of that, a little over 1200 were non-residents."

Bayor anticipates the cost reduction will boost non-resident participation in city services. And that is what he and the mayor are banking on to offset the cost of reducing fees.

"It should, if we increase participation, keep us even or actually bring in more revenue. The situation is, we lost so many non-residents who were normally in our program, our participation levels and so our overall revenue went down. So, if we can bring it back up – it’s just like if they were all residents coming in even though they’re going to have twice as much fee anyway at $30 instead of $15. So, we should entice more people into our programs."

City officials also raised fees on after school programs from about a dollar a month to $25 per week. Summer programs jumped from $70 for a ten-week program to $55 per week. The city won’t be raising that again. And facility rentals are being slashed from $125 per hour to $75 and two hour gym rentals will now cost $200 instead of $500. The cost for an all day rental will remain $500. Bayor said that move should also bring in more business for the department.

"Sometimes when we were restricted to, I think it was a four hour minimum, a lot of groups didn’t need it that long but they had to pay the full fee. Now we have the new category of the two hours in there. So, it makes it a little more user friendly for somebody coming in."

Other reductions include eliminating double charging. Based on the proposal, only league fees would be charged for sports teams and having a Rec Card would no longer be required. Bayor said that has already been tested and the results were promising.

"The department did a test case by removing the Rec Card requirement to register youth in our soccer program and it led to a 47% increase. We went from 283 children in 2011 to 416 in 2012."

Right now the fee reductions are only a glimmer in Mayor Buckhorn’s eye. The proposal will go before city council for approval before anything is implemented. Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said she has already arranged a meeting with Bayor to crunch the numbers.

Mayor Buckhorn was not available for comment, but in a statement said that reducing fees will make using parks and recreation services affordable for everyone. He added that “the children who are in our parks facilities this summer are children who will not be at risk to the temptation of the streets.”

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