Former Mayor Clarence H. "Du" Burns yesterday proposed charging fees at more city recreation centers as an alternative to closing them completely -- something he said incumbent Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has been all too willing to do.
Stepping up his campaign to oust Mr. Schmoke in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, Mr. Burns said the city should convert some existing rec centers into specialized facilities that charge a fee for programs such as swimming clinics or basketball instruction. The income from the fees would allow the city to subsidize the other recreation centers.
"Rather than talk about closing rec centers, let's find something to do with them," Mr. Burns told a campaign press conference held in front of the city-owned soccer arena named for him in Canton.
He said that the Clarence "Du" Burns Arena, which opened earlier this year, was a "prime example" of a city-owned, fee-charging rec center where people are willing to pay to play.
"We don't contribute [taxpayer money] to these things and yet they are city-owned and they are available to the general public," Burns said.
But the mayor fired back at his opponent later in the day, saying that Mr. Burns' proposal to charge fees at more rec centers could make it difficult for some children to participate.
"If he wants to exclude poor children from recreation, let him raise the fees," Mr. Schmoke said.
The mayor said his administration is determined to strengthen the city's recreational system, but that Mr. Burns is only recycling ideas that were proposed in a consultant's report unveiled by the city in July.
The report said that even though the city has 77 neighborhood recreation centers and 12 special facilities, there is only enough money in the Department of Recreation and Parks' $34.5 million budget to properly staff and operate about 43 recreation centers.
The report recommended that the city should close or consolidate smaller, underused recreation centers, while developing four "regional centers" with more extensive programs.
According to city officials, Baltimore has the highest number of recreation centers per capita of any city in the nation. But many of the centers are either understaffed or are open only part-time because a lack of money.