People who enjoy Washington's recreational offerings should prepare to start paying for their fun. But they will have at least until 1980 to start saving their money.
At the request of City Council member William Spaulding and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate D.C. Appropriations Committee, the department has undertaken a study of the feasibility of installing users' fees on many of its activities.
Since the recreation department was founded in 1942, it has only charged for specially requested services that needed added expenditures such as instructors or sports officials.
In a preliminary proposal submitted to the D.C. Office of Budget and Management Systems (OBMS) at the end of August, the department suggested that the first services to be charged for should be:
Tennis courts - $2 per hour or $5 fo a one-hour session for four weeks on city-owned courts;
Lighted fields - approximately $1.50 per hour for use of lights at night at the city's 46 centers with equipped fields;
Facility rental - a minimum charge of $25 for use of department-run indoor facilities.
Vehicle rental - a charge of 70 cents per mile for trips of more than 30 miles with a variety of fees for short trips, depending on the vehicle rented;
Equipment rental - a $5 charge for the loan of an athletic equipment bag containing equipment valued at $55.75;
Cultural Services - varying fees for equipment such as stage props, microphones and stage lights, and specialized personnel and performers;
Swimming pool usage - 25 cents admission for free swim and/or instruction for children 17 and under, 50 cents for adults, $100 a year for a family pass, $15 for senior citizens per year, and $45 per hour (minimum of two hours) for pool rentals;
Meir Sofair, director of the receation department's research and planning division, estimated the initial package would provide $315,000 yearly return.
"I personally would like to have all recreation free because I'm a recreator," said Willima H. Rumsey, director of the recreation department. "However, with the austerity of budget - for example, we have $83,000 in swimming pool repairs and there is no money in the budget for it - out of desperation, we need the user fees.
"I think select recreational activities should be borne by users," he added. "But the normal recreation activities which are necessary for growing, that provide necessary life skills should be free . . . We have a responsibility to give people leisure-time skills they can live on - not only when they have limited time while they're working, but when they retire."
The recreation department currently is operating on a yearly budget of $18.4 million. With this money, the department operates 143 neighborhood centers, more than 500 other programs, and offers a wide variety of cultural activities.
Department planning and research division reports show 20,571,149 persons used recreational facilties and programs in fiscal 1976; 14,048,500 attended activities in 1975. Those figures are the yearly totals of the daily attendance reports.
Approximately 5.1 square miles within the city are used for recreation, Rumsey said.
"My position is that the recreation department should start a study and come forward with the results so we can see the possibility of users' fees," said Spaulding, chairman of the Council's committee on education, recreation and youth affairs. "When it appears the offerings are not as extensive as we would like, we should investigate the possibility of charging users' fees."
Spaulding said revenue from users' fees could not be included in the city budget before 1980, making their implementation unlikely before then.
The report submitted to OMBS contained no provisions for the installation of the system or estimates of the cost of charging fees. Ann Hadley, the OBMS budget analyst to whom the report was submitted, said these administrative decisions must be made before her office can make suggestions as to the feasibility of the proposal.
"Basically, we did some staff work with the people in recreation," she said. "We're not at the point where we're going to recommend . . . to the mayor certain things be charged for."
Rumsey said an additional report would be sent to Sen. Leahy in November.
Recreation officials said they had been given no indication whether funds collected from fees would be for their use or would be absorbed by the city for other use. Presently, money raised through fees for special services is put in a trust fund in the ward where the program is offered, and used to pay the accrued expenses.
"If we knew the money we raised would go back to the recreation program, there would be a lot more enthusiasm around the center," said Mary McKey, director of the department's information office. "On the other hand, we're interested in the city budget as a whole. If the city tells us we'll have to raise the money or face a cut from our basic budget, we'll have to do it."
Rumsey said that without additional funds the department would have to close some of the city's recreation centers.
Recreation officials were also concerned that users' fees would deprive city residents of recreational facilities "because the high number of indigent families in D.C.," Rumsey said.
But Spaulding said any system of fees would have to include some free time in all activities for those who could not afford to pay.
"One of the things we (the Council) made very clear in our (budget) report is that . . . it must not be a case where any family is deprived so as to provide for another family," he said.