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Use caution in increasing kids’ fees for Parks & Rec

Citizen Staff Writer
Our Opinion

It may look like mere play to grown-ups, but recreation for Tucson’s youth is a lot more than fun and games.

Whether shooting hoops or swimming laps, kids who participate in sports and other recreation are more likely to stay healthy and fit – and they’re a lot less likely to engage in juvenile crime.

The more free and inexpensive after-school and summer recreation programs for kids there are, the healthier and safer our communities will be.

So we commend the Pima County Board of Supervisors for voting Tuesday to undo its earlier decisions to impose fees on after-school and summer programs and to close some community centers and parks.

Yes, we know times are hard, and we know that the county’s costs for Parks & Recreation have risen considerably.

The supervisors have a budget to balance, and that’s not an easy task to undertake in these trying times.

Nonetheless, any move to raise fees and reduce recreation access should be undertaken gradually and judiciously.

That’s how the county is responding as of this week.

Letters of protest poured in from parents and youth program leaders when the county proposed $195 per semester fees for the Get Active! Afternoons after-school programs and $270 for an eight-week Stay Active! Summers program.

We’re glad the programs will continue free of charge, at least for now.

In addition, the commissioners did the right thing by delaying field fee increases for athletic organizations until February 2010, giving Little League and other groups the opportunity to plan and budget for the higher costs.

Some fee increases and recreation reductions appear to be inevitable, given the county’s 50 percent increase in Parks & Recreation costs over the past five years.

The department budget was $15.6 million in 2008-09 compared with just $10.4 million in 2003-04 – and fees have not increased during that time.

But we urge the supervisors to raise fees fairly, by providing advance notice and special deals for low-income families as well as those with multiple children.

Ultimately, healthy communities will encourage recreation, treating it as a line-item to be subsidized rather than as a profit-making endeavor.

Of course the county must break even. But when kids have healthy outlets, our society ultimately saves a lot of heartache and money otherwise spent on crime-fighting, incarceration and rehabilitation.

We encourage county leaders to do all they can to keep youth recreation as free from fees as possible. It’s far more than child’s play.

Kids who have the chance to ‘play’ in sports and other forms of recreation tend to avoid juvenile crime.

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