Officials evaluating parks usage fees

City Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jesse Reyes addresses members of the city’s new parks and recreation advisory board about fees for city parks.

Fees for use of city parks will be reviewed by members of the city’s new parks and recreation advisory board.

The members of the new parks and rec advisory board discussed the fees during their second meeting on Nov. 5.

City Parks and Recreation Superintendent Jesse Reyes attended the meeting to go over the ordinances and to answer any questions board members might have.

Board member Joe Joplin asked if the parks fee schedule included as part of the informational packet for members was current.

“Are there things in there that could be updated in your opinion?” Joplin asked.

“Yes. One of the things, and I think it’s in there, was when they removed the fees for all the recreation facilities, indoors and outdoors, and then I think kind of briefly spoke about that last summer, and that’s something we definitely would like to visit, update, bring the fees back,” Reyes said.

When Joplin asked to which fees Reyes was referring, the parks superintendent pointed out fees for lighting at some of the city’s ballparks.

“And is that the only change that you feel necessary?” board member Natalie Granatelli asked.

“I mean, we could definitely, you know, look at all the fees, and then again, we would definitely look for some kind of recommendation. I know some of the fees are low compared to some of the other surrounding cities, and, of course, compared to the school district,” Reyes said.

“The lighting fees, are these only for outdoor facilities, or for gymnasiums as well?” asked board member Roy Musquiz Jr.

“Correct, for the Joe Ramos gymnasium,” Reyes replied

Board member Lupita De La Paz asked about the labor set up fee.

“Say you’re having some kind of private event at the amphitheater and you want the stage, you want cleanup, you want restrooms, you want set up of electrical. It’s anything that requires any kind of manhours from the city. That’s where those charges apply,” Reyes replied.

“Have you ever considered having different rates for profits and non-profits on your rentals?” Musquiz asked.

“No, I don’t think that’s ever come across, but it’s definitely something we can look into,” Reyes said.

“It’s been talked about that the lighting for non-profits (such as) Little League, it takes a lot of their money... It’s a burden on Little League baseball,” Musquiz said.

Joplin also pointed out there is no charge for camping overnight in city parks on special event holidays like Easter.

“But that’s extra time cleaning up afterwards, for your crew, and then it gets overcrowded, possibly, so there are potentially places where there could be fees for special events that we may have to look at, too,” he said.

Reyes replied that on three-day Easter weekend, the city provides manpower for cleanup.

“And your staff is getting holiday pay, overtime, so you’re incurring work, more use, more cost,” Joplin said.

Board President Peter Ojeda pointed out, though, that Easter camping in city parks has always been free.

“I just wonder, at a certain point, if you add a little value to something, even if it’s really affordable, if you put a dollar to it, a name to it, then you end up getting a little bit more responsibility,” Joplin said.

“It’s like anything, if you have a vested interest in something, you take better care of it,” Ojeda agreed.

“Would this be on non-holiday events or all events, because that’s what the beauty of Del Rio is, they like to go to the parks and camp out during Easter,” board member Nydia Fernandez-Contreras said.

Joplin pointed out as Del Rio grows, it may no longer be able to do things exactly as they were done in the past.

“We don’t want to discourage use, we just want to encourage responsible use. We’re in a transition period, and responsible use is not there every time, from what I see, from the trash and the cleanups,” Joplin said.

Fernandez-Contreras and Granatelli wondered aloud about enforcement and when Joplin gave an example, Granatelli said enforcement of permits and fees would bring its own costs.

“You could set a maximum number of families in a park, so you could have, maybe 250, but you couldn’t have 1,000,” Joplin said.

He conceded, however, “These things take time, and they don’t happen overnight, but limitations may have to be in place.”

Reyes added the crowded parks also present a challenge should there ever be an emergency in one of them.

“Aside from safety, it’s a sanitary thing. Who’s throwing what where, how many available restrooms do we have, that sort of thing,” Ojeda said.

Fernandez-Contreras said a police bike patrol would be a benefit during those types of events in the parks.

Joplin said he has also seen mattresses and recliners brought to the creek, which then end up in the water, and reserving a campsite or picnic table would mean that a person’s name is attached to that site, making them responsible for ensuring the area is kept clean.

Board member Roland Andrade asked Reyes if he would be recommending a new set of fees to replace the ones currently in use or if the board would be asked to make those recommendations.

“It would definitely be helpful if we received some kind of recommendation from the board, then we can forward that to the city council and see what their thoughts are on that,” Reyes said.

Assistant City Manager Esme Meza said the board could decide if it wanted Reyes to come up with recommendations for review or if they wanted to make their own recommendations.

Board member Lupita De La Paz suggested Reyes make the recommendations since he was more familiar with the needs of the parks department.

Granatelli added she would be happy to research what other cities in the region charge.

“I think that should come into play when we make the presentation to city council, so they can see where the numbers are coming from as well,” she said.

“I know the city is trying to increase usage and healthy living, but at the same time, to do it responsibly, possibly at the same time it’s trying to make those little turns to get people there without trying to upset the whole culture and history,” Joplin said.

Reyes pointed out the city would probably never be able to charge enough to recover the cost of operating the parks, but perhaps the city could consider some equitable fees.

He added that currently “anyone can come reserve the fields, reserve the gym, and it’s zero cost.”

Musquiz said he would like to propose that non-profit organizations be charged at 50 percent of what the final fees would be.

The board members agreed to address the fees issue again at a meeting in the near future.

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