Lawrence folks who want to continue using the city’s recreation centers and Prairie Park Nature Center will likely need to budget for a new expense starting next month.
Staff members in the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department are recommending daily fees of $3, monthly passes for $10 or annual passes for $100 for adult Douglas County residents to use Holcom Park and East Lawrence rec centers, Sports Pavilion Lawrence and the Community Building. The facilities are all currently free for residents to use.
Kids and teens up to age 19 could still enter for free. Non-residents would pay double ($6, $20 and $200, respectively).
The plan also includes new entry fees for Prairie Park Nature Center. Adult residents of Douglas County could pay $3 for a day pass or $20 for an annual pass; however, the $100 annual rec center pass would also include admission to the nature center, according to the presentation. Those younger than 19 would not be charged for entry.
The fees don’t require approval from the Lawrence City Commission — they’ll be decided at the staff level, Derek Rogers, director of Parks and Recreation, told members of the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board last month.
Lindsay Hart, assistant director of recreation, said LPRD is “absolutely not” going to turn anyone away because they can’t pay.
Staff members are recommending that adults whose incomes are 185% or less of the federal poverty level (up to $25,142 annually for an individual) get free annual passes. They would not be required to provide documentation of their income.
“We’re going to demonstrate trust with our community,” Hart said. “… We don’t want to put anyone in a humiliating situation where they have to stand in line and provide us paperwork and things like that.”
According to a presentation and materials prepared ahead of Monday’s advisory board meeting, the new and updated fees will go into effect Feb. 1.
The recommended fees for the rec centers would bring in an estimated $200,000 in revenue in 2023. The presentation also states that “Fees will be increased on an annual basis.”
Lawrence community member Steven Koprince shared concerns about the “preordained annual increase,” as well as the quick timeline for the fees to be put in place.
“Imposing fees would be a tremendous change to our community’s relationship with its recreation centers,” he said via email. “As a community, we deserve appropriate time to process this proposal, ask questions, and debate it, without a short ticking clock hanging over our heads.”
Other fees and increases in the plan
Lawrence’s indoor and outdoor pools already charge admission fees. Kids, teens and seniors currently pay $5 per day, and adults pay $6.
Staff members project that a $1 across-the-board increase — raising the cost of daily admission to $6 for kids, teens and seniors, and to $7 for adults — would bring in $25,000 in additional revenue in 2023.
Other parts of the plan include raising fees to use Eagle Bend Golf Course and to rent facilities such as park shelters and athletic fields.
Programming fees would also increase, such as summer camp — to $130 from $100 — and Prairie Park Nature Center’s summer camp would increase to $190 from $130, according to the presentation.
The plan would also increase the cost of a single grave space in Lawrence cemeteries for a resident to $1,375 from $1,050, and for a nonresident to $1,950 from $1,500.
See the full presentation below, and a full list of updated fees at this link.
Expenses and revenues
According to numbers provided by Mark Hecker, assistant director of parks for LPRD, the department’s expenses increased by about $4.4 million from 2021 to 2022. This year, the department projects another roughly $1.4 million increase in expenses.
“Everything we do, from fertilizer, to grass seed, to anything and everything we buy has gone up or doubled,” Hecker said. Gas prices have also contributed significantly to the expense increase, he said.
Hart said in addition to inflation, the department has also struggled to attract part-time staff, and it has increased wages in order to be competitive.
Meanwhile, revenues made a slight recovery from a COVID-19 drop in 2020 (down to about $1.84 million, from $4.26 million in 2019) to $3.55 million in 2021, and preliminary totals for 2022 are roughly $3.7 to $3.8 million, Hecker said. That means the department recovered about 21-22% of costs for 2022, falling short of its goal of 26%.
LPRD’s goal is to recover 34% of costs in 2023. According to the presentation, LPRD is estimating expenditures of $18.88 million and revenues of $6.4 million in 2023 if the fees proceed as planned.
Rogers told board members during their meeting last month that “I’ve got to get us back on footing — on good financial sustainable footing — and we haven’t been there for years.”
John Blazek, advisory board member, asked what the department is doing to cut its costs.
“This discussion is on fees,” Rogers responded. “As we go into the ‘23 or ‘24 budget discussions, … we’re gonna look at these tough questions on if we don’t make our revenues, how are we gonna adjust to that? … What do we not do in the community if we don’t fill that budget gap? So those questions will be later.”
Blazek, other board members and members of the public have also asked about other possible options, such as sponsorships, to increase revenues.
Roger Steinbrock, communications and events manager, said he was in the process of working out a contract for one sponsorship. But he said it’s an issue of time for him — he’s been allocating his time toward several different things based on the department’s needs.
The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9 to discuss the staff proposal. It was not clear, and Hart was unsure Friday, whether the board will take a vote on the plan. The updated list of fees for 2023 was already posted on the city’s website by Sunday.
The meeting will be in person at the LPRD Administrative Offices at 1141 Massachusetts St., and via Zoom. Meetings are also livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel. See the full meeting agenda at this link.
The board will accept public comment in writing, emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org, up until noon Monday. People may provide public comment during the meeting in person or via Zoom. Register to join the Zoom meeting at this link.LPRD-2023-fees-proposed
Note: This post was corrected Jan. 9 to reflect that youths up to age 19 would be able to continue using the facilities for free.
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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.