South county cities adjust parks and rec fees to keep budgets in check

Cities across south Snohomish County are facing a revenue crunch because of a lagging economy and deflated tax revenues. That means taking a closer look at expenditures and sharpening pencils to fine-tune city budgets.

Parks and recreation departments are no exception. Some departments have reduced staff and slashed less popular programs.

Now with the new year, department directors are taking a fresh look at increasing efficiency and boosting revenue.

In Lynnwood new fees are expected in 2012, although not before the spring, with City Council approval.

“That will coincide with the distribution of our Recreation Guide for the spring season,” said Lyn Sordel, director of parks and recreation.

Fees will be increased 50 cents more for admission to the Rec Center, 50 cents more for swim lessons, and a 10 percent increase for all program fees and rental fees.

In Edmonds, program and user fees have been evaluated, said Carrie Hite, director of parks and recreation. City staff looked at other civic departments in the area.

They determined that a nonresident fee structure should be added to the existing fees. That addition was made in December for winter quarter classes.

Hite is also re-examining instructor contracts and renegotiating them to lower what instructors are paid.

While some cities hire hourly staff or use full-time staff as instructors, Edmonds only contracts with those who teach its classes. These instructors own their own business and are paid a percentage of the revenue brought in for the programs. They also generally work for multiple jurisdictions.

“It only makes sense in these times,” Hite said. “Instructors can make $200 to $300 an hour.”

She is also looking, with the City Council, to create partnerships between businesses and parks that are adding concessions. Hite said that adding amenities, including recreation and food concessions, in Edmonds’ busiest parks could hold some revenue potential. That move would require city code changes.

Parks being monitored for the concessions include Yost Pool, Waterfront Park and City Park.

Mountlake Terrace took a less drastic approach to adjusting parks and recreation fees. Late last year, the council approved adjustments for parks fees spanning 2012-16. While most fees will stay unchanged in 2012, including aquatics and before- and after-school programs, other programs such as lifeguard training will increase in cost.

Programs that will see fees go down include teen and specialty camps, pool rental fees, swim lessons and drop-in fees.

Fees are determined using a combination of factors including economic conditions, program demand, city goals to promote healthy lifestyles, keeping the budget balanced budget and offering competitive prices.

“We want to keep fees at a reasonable level and offer quality programs at the level we’re accustomed to,” Don Sarcletti, recreation and parks director, said.

The city expects to collect $1.65 million in aquatics fees, more than $881,000 for youth programs and more than $290,000 in athletic and fitness fees. That will cover about 84 percent of the costs to offer the programs, staff said.

Herald writer Katie Murdoch contributed to this report.

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