Balto. Co. moves to raise park fees Charges would affect private groups, adult teams, rec councils

March 14, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

In an article yesterday about proposals to increase fees for Baltimore County recreational facilities, the views of County Councilman T. Bryan McIntire were misstated. He objects to the plan to charge fees to volunteer recreation councils, but not to fees in general.

The Sun regrets the error.

The price of fun is going up in Baltimore County.

The county is moving to create new recreation fees and increase others a move that will affect tens of thousands of golfers, picnickers and adult softball players.

Even volunteer recreation councils will be charged to use some park facilities under the plan, which mirrors a trend among localities to increase revenues without boosting taxes.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"It may be viewed as an extra tax," said Arthur N. Rogers III, chairman of the recreation and parks board. "But this is good, because it's an elective tax. Because of budget reductions, we have to start charging them."

Some residents who mow grass, build concession stands and do the other volunteer work to help run rec leagues, however, say the leagues are suffering from the same economic pressures as the county and can't afford the changes.

"We don't have all the resources we need either. We're not opposed to fees, but don't rush into it too quickly," said the Rev. Steve Girard, president of the Lansdowne-Riverview Recreation Council. He said he fears the plan would redirect $40,000 in revenues that might otherwise come to his council.

Unwilling to risk the political consequences of raising taxes, the Ruppersberger administration is, like the leadership in other Maryland counties, relying more and more on spending cuts and fee increases to cope with tight budgets. Charging fees means the people who use facilities help pay for them, county officials say.

Among the seven largest Maryland localities, Baltimore County has increased fees the most since 1990. And flat tax revenues, combined with the demands of thousands more school children, mean more fee increases are likely.

The proposed increases would not affect children's activities or most individual park users but would concentrate on large groups and adult players including the 2,200 adult softball teams and the golfers who play 180,000 rounds each year on three county courses.

For example, the county wants to charge recreation councils $300 to rent Oregon Ridge's largest room on weekends and holidays; they pay no fees for the room now. The weekend and holiday rate for private groups would jump from $600 to $750, although the weekday rate would not change.

Oregon Ridge and four other parks are self-supporting. Pavilion fees also would be established in the county's nonself-supporting parks at $130 for groups of more than 100. Recreation councils would still be allowed to use those pavilions free, but they would likely lose the donations they now get from private groups in exchange for free use of the pavilions.

A few current fees, including those at two parks with bayside beaches, would decline.

Reaction from recreation council leaders varied, and several county councilmen expressed reservations at a meeting this week with county recreation Director John F. Weber III.

"A lot of people are very much against that," Linda Emrick, president of the Essex Recreation Council said about the new fees. Noting that volunteers are getting harder to find, she added, "I don't think the county should charge for everything."

Robert Liggett, president of the Arbutus council, had no complaint, even though his group is contributing nearly $25,000 to build rest rooms and a concession stand at the Arbutus Middle School ball fields. "People wouldn't be averse to a small increase," he said.

John "Buzz" Battaglia, president of the Cockeysville recreation council, agreed.

"Any adult program should be self-sufficient," he said, citing the county's tight budget. "Some of the men's adult softball teams are dressed as well as the pros, so I don't think money's a problem."

Mr. Weber told the County Council that starting as early as September each adult softball team would have to pay $6 per game to use county fields and $10 for a lighted, night game. The other fees would take effect in May, if the council approves the changes. A date for the council vote has not been set.

"I'm objecting to it," northern county Republican Councilman T. Bryan McIntire said.

Douglas B. Riley, a Towson Republican, added, "I don't want recreation councils spending disproportionate amounts of time fund raising instead of working with kids."

Golfers will see fees rise slightly March 28, because the Baltimore County Revenue Authority, not the County Council, controls that sport and has already approved increases.

Most golf fees will rise $1 to $4, depending on the time and day of the week, and cart rental, golf director Robert R. Staab said. The authority needs the extra $430,000 a year to buy maintenance equipment, refurbish the courses and pay for two courses being built, he said.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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