ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council is once again considering a plan to implement fees for organized sports and special events at public parks.
Council originally approved moving forward with this motion two years earlier but the item was postponed due to COVID-19 relief measures.
The proposal returned for discussion at the council’s May 24 meeting, prompting members of local sports leagues to voice their opposition to additional fees, which they say could be a barrier for some players to participate.
In August 2021, a citywide fee study completed by a hired consultant was presented to the council and scheduled for final approval. But implementation of a new fee structure was placed on hold during the pandemic to avoid placing further financial hardship on community groups and to allow the city additional time to give public notice of the proposed changes.
In Encinitas, the majority of park fees have not been adjusted since 1998, with the exception of fees at the Community and Senior Center in 2002 and library fees in 2008. In February, the city’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts Department reviewed and updated the fees and cost recovery percentage from the 2021 Fee Study.
The proposed fees — recreation fees, events, rentals, and associated financial transaction fees — would increase cost recovery for ongoing operations, maintenance, and services at various park and recreation facilities.
Just under 4% of property tax revenue is allocated to the city’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts Department for maintaining public parks and approximately $8.2 million was allocated to the department in this year’s general fund. But combined, the city’s parks and recreation department only has $5.6 million available for use.
Under the proposed fee adjustment, the city’s annual revenue increases each year, starting at $125,000 before doubling to $250,000 in 2024-25. Indoor spaces like recreation rooms would increase recovery income from 8% to 9.8%, and all other facilities from 2.3% to 10%.
Community sports and athletics would be impacted the most under the proposed fee structure consisting of three categories: Resident recreational use, nonresident recreational use, and competitive or paid management sports.
Resident recreational sports will be charged $5 per hour and an additional $10 if field lights are used. The nonresident recreational and competitive sports will be charged $10 per hour, with an additional $15 for field lights. If non-Encinitas residents play in any of these categories, teams will be charged $5 extra per player in addition to the hourly rates per season.
Members of different sports groups spoke at the meeting, expressing their opposition to implementing fees, arguing that increased costs would increase the chances of players dropping out for financial reasons.
Tiana Hejduk, representing the San Dieguito Youth Softball team, said adding these fees would only hurt the youth sports teams and cause competition between different sporting groups on the city’s limited number of fields.
“My biggest concern, as a coach, is if we are going to be charged fees, our little youth softball league generates not a lot of money,” Hejduk said. “This year, for example, we had the biggest turnout in Spring ball. So say, for instance, 350 kids come back and sign up for Fall Ball; according to fee schedules, we will have to pay close to $50,000 a year for what we need for our little softball players during that time. We don’t generate that much money, so does that mean youth softball goes out because now we’re competing with people that can afford to pay.”
Several City Council members empathized with individuals who spoke on behalf of local organizations and sports teams at the meeting, even suggesting placing the fees on other parts of the budget.
“If we don’t charge fees, somebody else pays the fee because it comes out of the general fund,” City Manager, Pamela Antil, said in disagreement with some council members. “I understand that people don’t want to pay fees, but I don’t know that I want to encourage you to raise other people’s fees because one group came here tonight and doesn’t want to pay fees, with all due respect.”
The council agreed to extend the public hearing until June 28 to hear different proposals based on public comments and information.