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Park board proposes new fees for fields, theater

The Vashon Park District has proposed new fees for the use of sports fields, the Vashon High School theater and other public facilities in an effort to make such costs more equitable among user groups.

The new fees would also simplify the way the program is administered and how fees are collected, said David Hackett, a commissioner on the park board who has spearheaded the effort.

Under a proposal issued last week, theater or dance groups that want to rent the high school theater would pay $150 per performance, rather than a complex set of fees based on hourly use. Sports teams — from soccer to lacrosse to baseball — would pay around $20 per season per player rather than an hourly and per-game fee that Hackett said was complex and hard to collect.

And drop-in gym use at the public schools — nighttime basketball, for example — would require each player to have a $17 season pass, rather than the $3 fee kids are expected to pay at the door right now.

The money would go into a special “facility improvement fund,” Hackett said, to be used for capital improvements to the various facilities or for what Hackett called “extraordinary maintenance,” such as refinishing a gym floor.

A meeting to discuss the proposal will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Ober Park. The park district sets fees for the use of both park and school facilities under an interlocal agreement that places the park district in charge of maintaining fields and collecting fees for extracurricular use of school facilities.

Hackett said he thinks the proposal will usher in a new era, where everyone will pay close to the same fees — a far cry from the old days, he added, where “some were paying huge fees while others weren’t paying anything because they had what seemed like sweetheart deals.”

“Administratively, it’s easier to compute. It get rids of the freeloader effect. And it ensures there’s a good source of funds … going forward,” he added.

Joe Wald, another park commissioner and a baseball coach, said he believes the new fee structure will be a wash for most sports teams. According to his computations, the amount of money the district was owed for field use last year amounted to around $20 per player, he said.

“I think it just evens out,” he said.

Some in the sports community are concerned, however. Greg Martin, who heads the Vashon Island Soccer Club, which has over 500 members, received a copy of the proposal on Friday. Based on his cursory look at the new fee structure, he fears his club — the biggest field user on the Island — could end up paying more.

“I thought the fees were pretty solid before — especially for fields that were paid for by taxpayers’ money,” he said.

At the same time, he said, he realizes the fields are in serious need of care. Soccer teams routinely see practices and games cancelled because of the condition of the fields on Vashon.

“These fields are so badly needed by the community. The usage of the fields is very high. The money’s got to come from the community one way or another,” he said.

Members of the theater and dance community, meanwhile, said they were pleased by the new approach, even though it will likely cost the groups more money.

A group with representatives from those organizations that use the VHS theater has been meeting for a couple of years to try to figure out the best way to assess fees for theater use. The group met last week for a final look at the park district’s proposal and unanimously endorsed it, said Elizabeth Ripley, secretary of the theater user committee.

“It will definitely cost a little bit more, but I don’t have a problem with that,” Ripley said. “These are small fee hikes.”

Sharon Schoen, chair of the board for Dance! Vashon, which promotes the Vashon Dance Academy, one of four ballet companies on the Island, agreed.

“I think (the proposed fee structure) in general is pretty fair,” she said “The only issue for our group is that the access to the facility has gotten more and more difficult over the years.”

The park district and its user groups have been struggling with the issue of how to assess fees fairly for several years. Indeed, Hackett said the inequities in the fee structure were an issue that compelled him to run for a seat on the park board.

“It was just a mess. It created a lot of bad feeling,” he said.

So six years ago, the park board, at Hackett’s urging, got rid of fees altogether — making use free and asking users to contribute in-kind services or equipment as each group deemed appropriate. “This was kind of an experiment in government,” Hackett said. “I wanted to see what it was like to put people in charge of their own facilities.”

But that, too, proved difficult. Schoen said that in recent years, it’s become hard to figure out what to donate. “Over the years, we couldn’t think of anything to give anymore,” she said.

Sports teams that used the fields also found the in-kind system difficult to manage and last year began paying fees based on hourly and per-game use. Hackett’s proposal changes that to a per-player fee because the bookkeeping required to track hourly and per-game use of the fields was time-consuming, he said.

There’s another important distinction in the proposal the park district board is putting forward, Hackett said.

The facility improvement fund will establish accounts for each public facility — including the theater, the athletic fields, the skate park, the kayak center and the pool. User groups that pay fees and raise money for their facilities will see their funds go into the respective accounts, rather than into the general fund. Those accounts, in turn, will be used to improve and maintain their respective facilities.

“Equity’s become a non-issue because the money’s not going into the general fund,” Hackett said. “Nobody complains about money going to a facility that they’re using to make sure the facility’s in great shape.”

 

The Vashon Park District board will take comments on the proposed fee structure at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Ober Park. Community members can also submit their comments and suggestions prior to the meeting by emailing Susan McCabe, program director, at smmcabe@vashonparkdistrict.org or calling her at 463-9602.

 

 

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