SMC Public Pool on Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITYWIDE — City Hall is proposing nearly across-the-board fee increases for recreation programs and permits to use city facilities — a move that officials say is needed to stave off cuts as financial projections show a growing budget gap despite a recently passed half percent sales tax hike.

The proposed increases would apply to a wide variety of City Hall programs. Under the proposal, fees would rise for everything from taking a dip at the Santa Monica Swim Center, to enrolling in a city-run sports league, to renting a plot at one of Santa Monica’s Community Gardens or a meeting room at a city building. The Santa Monica Lawn Bowls Club, which has long enjoyed free use of the green at Douglas Park, would be hit with a $1,600 per year maintenance charge.

The proposed fee hikes would raise a total of $372,232 in additional revenue for City Hall, or 9.5 percent more than the Community & Cultural Services Department currently brings in from fees, according to a City Hall report.

The suggested increases, which will be discussed at a meeting of the Parks & Recreation Commission on Jan. 20 and are scheduled to go to the City Council for approval on Feb. 8, range from about a 10 percent increase for adult sports league registrations to a more than 200 percent increase for some community event permits.

Barbara Stinchfield, the department’s director, said the proposal is based on a detailed analysis of her department’s fee structure undertaken at the request of City Manager Rod Gould last year.

The City Council in June, she noted, adopted a budget that included fee increases for things such as ambulance trips but didn’t hike recreation fees.

“It’s a part of the city manager and the City Council’s approach last year in how to deal with this building budget gap in the city’s general fund over time,” Stinchfield said. “This is our contribution to the effort.”

She said the proposal aims to preserve significant general fund subsidies for programs that provide a “broad community benefit” — things like playground use, senior activities and enrollment in the Police Activities League, which would remain free — while relying more heavily on user fees to fund programs that serve a “targeted population” — like the community gardens, lawn bowling or use of a city park for a private function, which would see fee increases.

City staff also considered how recently each program’s fees were increased and what nearby cities charge for comparable programs in coming up with the recommendations, she said.

In most cases, the proposed fee increases would lessen the city’s subsidy by only a few percentage points of overall program expenses. For the community gardens, for instance, the 25 percent fee increase, from $60 per plot per year to $75 per year, would result in only a 2 percent decrease in the share of the program’s cost covered by Santa Monica’s general fund, from 93 percent to 91 percent.

Stinchfield said the fee increase proposal includes a broad financial assistance program for needy residents, bud added she expected the plan to be controversial.

“Our hope is that the impacted users that are not real positive about the increases will at least understand why we’re proposing them and the City Council will find them fair,” she said.

Neil Carrey, who chairs the Parks and Recreation Commission, said he believed the increases were necessary, though he questioned some of City Hall’s recommendations.

“It was time to re-look at fees, re-evaluate it and in some cases clearly raise some of the fees,” he said.

Many of the fee hikes, he said, amount to nominal increases. The entry fee at the Santa Monica Swim Center, for example, would go up by 25 cents per day for youths and 75 cents per day for adults who are residents of Santa Monica.

“My personal feeling is, I don’t see them as enormous increases,” Carrey said.

But he said that for programs in high demand there should be a bigger difference between the fee charged to residents and the fee charged to non-residents than what City Hall has proposed.

There has yet to be a full public hearing on the proposal, so many residents who will be affected by the fees are likely unaware of the possible increases.

Adam Dawson, the adult sports representative on the Sports Advisory Council, said he was reserving judgment on whether the recommended increases are appropriate but was eager to learn more about the thinking behind the proposal.

“It seems counter intuitive for the city to have just asked us to [approve] an across-the-board sales tax increase … and then on top of that they ask for a 10 percent increase in fees,” he said, referring to the passage of Measure Y in November, which is expected to raise $12 million annually, with half promised to local public schools.

He said the proposed increases for adult sports leagues won’t “break the bank for anybody,” but added: “One wonders who’s making the budgeting decisions in the city.”

Zeroing in on a line item in the 60-page report on the fees produced by the Community & Cultural Services Department, Dawson, who participates in softball leagues through City Hall, said he wondered why the proposal contained a recommendation to increase registration fees for softball, volleyball and basketball leagues, but no increase for soccer leagues.

Kathy LePrevost, City Hall’s community recreation manager, denied soccer players were getting special treatment. There was no proposed increase for the sport because the soccer league is run by a private company that has a contract with City Hall, she said. Soccer will be reviewed for a possible increase once the agreement expires, she said.

Another increase likely to draw significant attention is a proposal to increase the monthly fee for CREST on-campus childcare services for fourth and fifth graders by 17 percent, from $300 per month to $350 per month. That increase, Stinchfield said, is in-line with the increase the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, which runs the same program for kindergarten through third grade, plans to charge.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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