COLUMBIA - Jamaca Nichols drives nearly 15 minutes to the Columbia Activity and Recreation Center. She's willing to use the extra gasoline because she prefers the ARC's aquatic facilities and extensive offering of exercise classes.
Nichols pays $27.50 per month. Proposed increases to Columbia Parks and Recreation Department fees would bump her ARC membership to $30. That figure includes both the activity fee, which is increasing, and the recreation center improvement fee, which will remain the same.
Some of the proposed fee increases in activity fees include:
Recreational classes: 15 percent increase
Adult team leagues: $5 per game increase
Family annual golf pass: $100 increase
9-hole cart rental: 50 cents increase
18-hole cart rental: $1 increase
Athletic field rentals: $5 per game and $50 per day increase
ARC admission: 5 percent average increase, with a range of 4 percent to 16 percent
For a list of all proposed increases, go to gocolumbiamo.com/Council/Bills/2008/aug18bills/B259-08.pdf
The proposal has led Nichols to consider joining a commercial fitness center closer to her home.
"An increase in prices might cause me to change my decision," Nichols said.
Proposed increases - ranging from 4 percent to 16 percent depending on type of membership - in ARC activity fees is one way the Parks and Recreation Department hopes to close the growing gap between its revenues and expenses. If approved by the City Council, increases would also affect adult team leagues, some golfers and people who rent aquatic facilities, athletic fields and other indoor venues. A public hearing on the proposed increases, which would take effect Oct. 1, will be held Sept. 2 at the City Council meeting.
To determine which fees to raise and by how much, the department considered when each fee was last increased and whether programs were meeting cost recovery goals, said Mike Hood, Parks and Recreation director. ARC membership fees, for example, have not been increased since the center opened in December 2002.
"We want to keep ARC fees affordable, but at the same time, our promise to the voters of Columbia was that if they approved funding for us to build the facility that we would attempt to operate it on the funds generated by the facility," Hood said.
The proposed $5-per-game increase in activity fees for adult sports teams is likely to have a minor effect on participants, but it may be the "first of a multitude of increases," Hood said. While the department aims for league fees to fund 90 percent of the costs, Hood estimates that the revenues are only accounting for 55 percent to 65 percent of expenses.
"We've really upgraded our accounting and record-keeping systems, and now have a better handle on what leagues are costing us," he said. "I suspect that we've been in this range for some time."
The Parks and Recreation Department is receiving additional data from PROS Consulting, a firm it hired to study its fees, cost recovery goals and staffing. While preliminary suggestions played a role in establishing the proposed increases, Hood said he expects the final report, which will be available later this fall, to influence future budgets.
Fees only cover part of the maintenance and operations costs for recreational activities and related facilities. The Recreation Services Fund, the portion of the department's budget dedicated to fee-based recreational services, also receives subsidies and transfers from the city general fund and the parks sales tax fund. With a strained general fund and a decrease in tax revenues, the department expects no increase in these revenue sources from last year's budget, Hood said. But fuel, utility and maintenance costs continue to rise.
"If we're going to have anywhere close to a balanced budget, we had to look at fees to see if there were any opportunities to obtain additional revenue," Hood said.
The proposed increases are estimated to generate $165,954 and help decrease the fund's net loss, which is estimated to reach more than $900,000 for 2008. The proposed 2009 budget also includes the elimination of the Paquin Tower recreation program, the loss of a full-time recreation specialist position and the closing of the Lake of the Woods swimming pool for summer 2009. The department's fiscal 2008 total budget, which includes the general and recreation services funds, is $12.2 million, and the 2009 proposed budget is $12.6 million.
Nichols is no stranger to balancing a budget despite rising costs. She's worried about her own. As a volleyball player, she would pay more to belong to a league team and to continue exercising at the ARC. Thinking about her options, she said that perhaps she will accept the fee increases and eat out and shop less.
"With so many ways to spend your money on unhealthy items, it's worth spending more on something that's good for your body," Nichols said. "It might mean it's time to cut out the excess in less healthier areas."