City approves fee increase for field use

Council moves from per-player, per-sport, per-season to simplified per-hour pricing system

A new fee system for field rentals was given the green light by city council Monday despite some vocal opposition.

Chad Braithwaite, president of Campbell River Slo-Pitch, told council last month that the city’s move to an hourly booking system would result in massive fee increases for its members.

He told council at its Jan. 23 meeting that a new $20 hourly fee for adult sports leagues to rent city and school fields will cost the league $16,960 – a 376.88 per cent increase over the $4,500 the league paid last year.

Braithwaite said that would translate to each player having to pay $82.72 towards field user fees in 2017, compared to the $22 members chipped in last year.

But city staff questioned the accuracy of Braithwaite’s figures.

Lynn Wark, the city’s recreation and culture manager, said the information Braithwaite presented to council “was inconsistent with the information as collected by staff over the course of the review (of field user fees).”

“The main discrepancy is that staff were advised that each game requires a one-hour booking slot,” Wark wrote in a report to council. “In the presentation from slo-pitch, it is detailed that the mixed league needs a two-hour booking slot per game.”

Wark said staff met with the slo-pitch league to clarify and at that meeting, it was agreed that the mixed league needs a one and a half hour slot per game.

Wark said that changes the booking time required for the mixed league, and the men’s and ladies’ leagues combined, to 668 hours.

“Based on an average number of 225 players registered in 2015 and 2016, that would increase the booking fee to $59 per player, which is a $37 increase,” Wark said.

The city’s Community Services, Recreation and Culture Commission which is made up of members of the public, as well as city staff and a council liaison, took a look at the impact of phasing in the new field fees for slo-pitch but came to the conclusion that it would not be in the city’s best interest.

Wark said if the fee were phased in over three years it would make it easier for slo-pitch to absorb the increase, but it would reduce the adult fee user revenue to the city by roughly $10,000 over two years.

Under the new fee structure, rentals for youth leagues will be set at $5 per hour – a rate that Wark said has already reduced revenue by approximately $8,800 over a two year timeframe, which combined, would translate to an $18,800 total deficit.

That’s revenue that goes towards the parks operating budget to offset maintenance costs and Wark said such a reduction in user fees would need to be offset by taxpayers to maintain field maintenance service levels.

Coun. Colleen Evans, who is the council liaison to the Community Services, Recreation and Culture Commission, said the commission had the chance to meet with slo-pitch representatives and iron out the details.

“There was mutual agreement that moving forward with these fees was the direction we’d be moving in,” Evans said.

Coun. Charlie Cornfield thanked Evans for reporting back.

“I was quite confused and somewhat concerned about what seemed to be a substantial increase,” Cornfield said. “I’m glad that was worked out between the commission and slo-pitch.”

Ross Milnthorp, the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and culture, added that there are still a few outstanding issues, however, to work out with slo-pitch – one being the fees for registered charity tournaments. Milnthorp said city staff are working on a solution, which may be to make charity sporting tournaments eligible for the city’s grants-in-aid.

Meanwhile, the new fee structure is expected to into effect for play field rentals this season.

The new system was drafted by city staff last year under the direction of council to undertake a comprehensive review of user fees charged at city facilities.

The city has been using a user fee system that charges on a per player, per sport, per season basis. For youth that fee was $10 per youth, per sport, per season and $22 for each adult, per sport, per season.

That will now change to an hourly booking system whereby youth rentals will cost $5 per hour, per field and $20 per hour for adult teams. According to a city report, fees in municipalities of a similar size and with similar facilities on Vancouver Island charge on average between $7.02 and $17.62 for youth per hour and $16.33 and $33.17 for adults per hour.

Tournament fees would follow those same fees but be capped at eight hours, or $160 per field per day for adult tournaments and capped at $40 for youth tournament bookings.

The fees would also apply to School District 72 fields which are booked through the city.

Council last fall endorsed the new fee structure, which is intended to create a more equitable fee structure for all users and better manage field availability and maintenance. As the fees are part of a city bylaw, however, council needed to pass three readings and adoption to give official approval to the rate changes.