Behind the headlines

How has the field-user policy changed?

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Chris WIlson is the director of Steamboat Springs Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department. He discusses the issue of field-user fees and how the policy has changed.

Q. How has the Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department changed its policy on field-user fees? Who will be affected?

A. The policy on field-user fees has not changed recently.

Four years ago, all user groups were notified that, following a period of internal study and outside community surveys, fees would be recommended for all field-user groups.

The implementation of the policy has been an ongoing process, with the intention of creating a fair and equitable fee system.

The groups most greatly affected by the application of the policy will be those who have a high level of field use and have historically paid no usage or maintenance fees.

Q. Each city department had to cut its budget by 2 percent. Why did the department decide to balance the budget by increasing user fees? And were there any other cuts made to the Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department budget?

A. As reported in the Steamboat Today newspaper in February 1999, the Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department began ... "taking a close look at the fees it charges groups for using city playing fields in an effort to make sure they are consistent."

The plan at that time was to review whether fees were being charged consistently, gather information, and return with a formal proposal.

This information points to a dual impetus for charging fees: the need to address the budget and practical policy enforcement.

Other operating cuts were made in each division of the department in order to assist in meeting the budget reduction.

Q. If the city continues to tighten the budget, what other services could be the next to go?

A. When budgets are tightened, elimination of services, reduction in service levels and new or increased fees are all possible pieces of the solution.

Other fiscally responsible actions include working within designated budget constraints. Since we are all in the same "Boat," what impacts one user group necessarily impacts another.

Q. Can you explain the formula that decides how much each user has to pay? And based on field use, what groups will generate the most revenue?

A. The initial step in creating a fair and equitable fee formula was to determine the actual annual cost of maintaining the fields.

For example, items included in factoring a "cost per soccer field" included mowing, aerating, fertilizing, watering, painting lines and irrigation maintenance.

The cost for these items and whether they were performed daily, weekly or seasonally was computed to determine the total cost per field. (Capital outlay for equipment and significant field improvements were not considered as a part of the annual cost per field.)

The total annual maintenance cost for all soccer fields was then divided by the estimated total annual hours of use for all soccer fields to determine the basic cost-per-user-hour.

This cost-per-user-hour, which for a soccer field is estimated at 25 cents, is then multiplied by each group's user hours for their total cost.

As an example, the fee for a team of 15 players using a field for one hour would be $3.75.

Based on this formula, the groups that will generate the most revenue will simply be those groups who utilize the fields most frequently.

The concept is pay to play and the final cost to a user group will be based only on the hours they decide to use the facility.

Q. Has the city every instituted user fees for youth or adults in the past? And are user fees for youth a common occurrence in other communities?

A. User fees have been consistently collected from all adult user groups for a number of years.

Youth events that charge an admission or entry fee, such as camps and tournaments, have been assessed a user fee the last several years in keeping with the implementation of the policy as discussed four years ago.

After extensive research focusing on other mountain communities, in addition to several Front Range communities, the average hourly charge to a youth organization in other communities is substantially higher, although each community has developed its own fee structure and policies.

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