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MetroParks analyzing costs, considering fees

By Joanne Huist Smith - Staff Writer

Five Rivers MetroParks is analyzing its program costs and weighing whether those services benefit the general public or an individual patron, as part of a pricing policy review that may lead to fees for services that are now free.

“I don’t want people to think that everything we do will have a charge,” Karen Davis, chairman of the MetroParks board said at a meeting Thursday.“I think we have been good stewards of the public money. This clearly is a natural evolution to protecting the assists we have for the future.”

About 86 percent of the MetroParks’ offerings are free due to a 1.8 mill property tax levy approved by Montgomery County voters in 2009. The levy that generated $17.4 million in 2011, will bring in $16.1 million this year because of declining property values. The park system’s operating budget of $17.9 million, will fall nearly $1.8 million short of expenses in 2013, according MetroParks data.

“Development of a earned income policy will be necessary in the future,” said Leon E. Younger, president of Indianapolis-based, Pros Consulting, LLC, who was hired by the park system to assist with development of a pricing policy.

Earned income could include revenue from grants, sponsorships, advertising, partnerships, concessions, retail, permits and reservations, Younger said.

So, fees are being considered in three areas: Outdoor shelter rentals, camping permits and small classes offering intense instruction such as cooking and food preservation. Consideration of the fees is part of an ongoing change in the park system’s business model that began last year, when MetroParks faced a $3 million funding gap, Becky Benná, executive director of the park system said.

Typically, similar parks and recreation systems recover 30 to 40 percent of their cost through user fees and service charges, Younger said. The MetroParks cost recovery is about 9.5 percent.

In April the three-member board will consider adopting a philosophy that states programs and facilities that provide an individual benefit or that provides exclusive use — such a reservation of a park facility for a wedding — many require a fee.

Meanwhile staff continues to analyze the cost for programs, services and facilities for use in settinga tentative fee schedule.

“This is a big change for our organization and it takes time,” said Benná, adding that if the fee schedule gets approval from the board and the community, it could be implemented later this year.

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