Closing community centers also on hold
Families with children in after-school or summer programs won’t have to pay for services at recreation centers run by Pima County – at least for now.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday put imposing such fees on hold after receiving scores of protest letters from worried and angry parents who feared that such fees would put those programs economically out of reach for many.
Supervisors also put off closing some community centers and parks, and reversed actions taken two weeks ago to increase swimming programs and athletic field fees – at least until late June or early July.
“What we are recommending is that you somehow rescind that action and we start over again,” County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry told supervisors.
The county has not raised fees for Pima County Natural Resources, Parks & Recreation programs since 2003, Huckelberry said.
Since then, costs of department programs have significantly increased – from about $10.4 million five years ago to about $15.6 million in the fiscal year that ends June 30.
On Tuesday, the supervisors directed department staff and Huckelberry to come up with a proposed fee increase ordinance and return in late June or early July with the information.
The county also has added about $2 million in athletic fields lighting and officials anticipate sharply higher electric bills. Some of the proposed fee increases would help offset the cost.
Fee increases that could come at a later date include:
• At the county’s nine public swimming pools: Admission for those younger than 18 from 75 cents to $1.50 cents, and 50 cents per child for low-income households; 18 and older from $1.50 to $3.
• Unlighted athletic fields: Currently no charge. Would go to $5 per hour per field for for-profit leagues; $10 per hour per field for nonprofit organizations; and $15 per hour per field for for-profit teams at Sportspark, a field in Marana.
• Shooting range fees: From $4 per day to $6 per day at Tucson Mountain Park. From $6 per day to $8 a day at Southeast Regional Park Shooting Range.
The real lightning rod issue in the community was the proposal to charge fees for the after-school and youth summer programs.
County officials received more than 250 letters of objection from parents and officials of youth programs that use county community center and parks facilities.
The proposed fees would have been $195 per school semester for the Get Active! Afternoons program and $270 for an eight-week Stay Active! Summers program, with no reductions for families enrolling several children.
“That major issue is off the table,” Huckelberry told the supervisors.
It arose after the Arizona Department of Health Services told county officials that some of the facilities used would need costly physical upgrades because of state licensed day care regulations. To get around that, officials decided to impose fees for the after-school and youth summer programs and to end requirements that parents be either on-site or escort children to and from the centers – creating “at will” programs where children 6 and older could arrive and leave alone.
That would invariably have resulted in more unsupervised children after school and in summer recess getting into trouble, Penelope Jacks of the Childrens’ Action Alliance said after the board decision.
“Allowing children to come and go at will was a very, very bad idea,” Jacks said.
Pima County should join with other jurisdictions in the state in talks with DHS to come up with regulations that would allow after-school programs without meeting the rigid – and prohibitively expensive – licensing requirements for for-profit day care centers, Jacks said.
Supervisors directed Parks & Recreation staff to continue to operate the programs without charge or change and await a response from DHS officials.
Increases in fees for athletic field use also won’t be coming soon. Both for-profit and nonprofit athletic organizations will be hit by increases, but not before February 2010.
It wasn’t the fee increases that were problematic for officials of those organizations. It was the proposed timing of July 1 that they objected to.
“We don’t have a problem with that,” said Earl Causby, director of Little League Baseball’s District 12 in Tucson.
“But we need to have time to budget for it.”
Supervisors did not address the proposed closure of some parks and community centers – including the Joan M. Swetland Community Center in Sahuarita and the Lew Sorenson Community Center on the East Side. The Swetland Center could be taken over by the Sahuarita Unified School District.
POSSIBLE TRANSFERS OR CLOSURES
Pima County Natural Resources, Parks & Recreation Department facilities and programs facing possible transfers or outright closures:
• The Joan M. Swetland Community Center, 15500 S. Sahuarita Road, could be transferred to the Sahuarita Unified School District. Savings: $217,000 a year.
• The Lew Sorenson Community Center, 11100 E. Tanque Verde Road, could be closed, with classes transferred to the Tanque Verde Unified School District.
• The Rillito Vista Community Center, 8820 W. Robinson Road, could be closed, for a savings of about $87,000.
• Catalina Regional Park, 4135 E. Trotter Place, could be closed to save about $76,500.
• Sportspark, 6901 N. Casa Grande Highway, could be leased to a private operator by July 1 to save about $500,000.
• The county’s Leisure Times parks and recreation magazine could be eliminated, saving $50,000.
LAST FEES INCREASE
Pima County National Resources, Parks & Recreation Department last raised facilities and program fees in fiscal year 2003-04.
The department budget then was about $10.4 million – almost all from the general fund.
The 2008-09 department general fund budget ending July 1 was about $15.6 million – about a 50 percent increase over five years.