User fees for Robron field ‘too costly at this time’

City council has rejected fees suggested by city staff for the use of the new artificial turf field at Robron Park out of concern it may dissuade people from using it.

At its Monday meeting, council voted to deny rental rates that the city’s Community Services, Recreation and Culture Commission – which includes members of the public – thought were unreasonable.

“The commission believes that the user fees proposed are too costly at this time and may discourage use of the facility,” said Ross Milnthorp, the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture.

Based on comparisons with communities such as Saanich, Cowichan, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Surrey and a few others, city staff were recommending the following rates: $25 per hour during prime time and $12.50 per hour during non-prime time for youth; $36 hourly during prime time and $18 per hour during non-prime time for adult groups; $72 per hour for commercial groups, and a lighting fee of $25 per hour.

Currently, it costs $10 for youth sporting groups to rent a city field for an entire season.

Lynn Wark, the city’s recreation and culture manager, said the new fees would have been implemented on an interim basis, until such time that an ongoing review of city-wide recreation fees is complete.

“In the interim the Robron Park synthetic turf field is being added to the parks, recreation and culture division inventory with an anticipated completion date of late November/early December, weather-dependent,” Wark said.

“In order to be ready to start booking out the facility by Jan. 1, 2016, staff is recommending that interim fees are established for the Robron facility and are based on comparisons with other communities.”

But council chose to take the commission’s suggestion to instead have city staff consult with user groups to see if a consensus can be reached on appropriate user fees.

Milnthorp said the commission thought it was the best course of action despite the possible consequences.

“The commission understands that further user group consultation may delay the implementation of interim user fees which will result in a loss of revenue associated with use of the new artificial turf field,” he said.

The city, however, is expected to still generate at least some revenue from the new field, as Milnthorp said the current fees will apply.

He added that the review of the city’s recreational fees is expected to be complete in the next few months and staff are expecting to come back to council with a report at the end of March.

That report was prompted by a resolution made by council during 2015 financial planning that directed staff to undertake a review of user fees, including recreation facility use and programs fees and to report back on recommended changes as a way to possibly increase revenue.

Synthetic field

The Robron synthetic turf field is expected to be ready for use in the new year.

Construction began on the all-weather field in August.

The $2.27 million project includes not only the new turf, but also sports lighting and improvements to the pathway around Robron Park.

Council approved the project following a parks survey done by the city that revealed upgrades to Robron Park were survey respondents’ number one priority.

The project is funded by $750,000 from the city’s parks parcel tax fund, as well as Gas Tax funds transferred from senior government, to allow the city to avoid taking on any debt.