It was probably predictable that news of the D. C. Recreation Department's plans to start charging fees for services and facilities that now are free would touch off fierce public protest, but Dr. William Rumsey says what hurts most is personal criticism of him.
Recreation chief Rumsey said that "people have been calling up raising hell, saying, what are you doing, Bill? We know you, how could you do this? I was at the Kennedy Center and people were coming up to ask me about this."
What he says in response, Rumsey said, is that "I'm one of the true Washingtonians. I grew up on these playgrounds. I vehemently oppose charging user fees. I think it's people's right to have free recreation." He asks the complainers, he said, "Where were you when my budget was getting cut?"
Rumsey prepared a tentative list of the fees recreation is planning to charge -- including $100 for a family season permit at the swimming pools and up to $3.50 an hour at some tennis court -- but he said he did so only at the insistence of Congress and the City Council.
"I do not feel people should have to pay for basic recreation," he said. "I was instructed to prepare that list, but my basic philosophy is 'free recreation.'" He said the recreation fee issue has been around for decades -- he produced a newspaper cartoon about swimming-pool fees that he said was from 1922 to prove it -- and that he has always been against the idea.
Nonetheless, it is likely that recreation fees will be charged starting next Oct. 1.
The fee plan is part of a citywide effort to make users of services pay for them in order to keep them running in a time of cutbacks in the regular city budget. Because of the city's fiscal problems, most fees, such as the fee for replacing a lost driver's license, are expected to cost more a year from now and users will have to pay for some services that now are free. Rumsey said publication in The Washington Post of the fee plan has "caused a panic in the community that I think is premature."
He and Carolyn Smith, director of the city's Department of Finance and Revenue, issued a joint statement saying that reports of the fee plan "may have been misleading and are resulting in undue public concern." The statement quoted Rumsey as assuring "all residents that basic service such as the use of playground equipment by children and programs for teens and the elderly will not be affected."
Rumsey also said that no fees will be assessed during the current fiscal year, which ends next Sept. 30; that means the swimming pools still will be free next summer.
The statement did not deny that fees eventually will be charged for use of swimming pools, tennis courts, playing fields and theatrical and sound equipment. The City Council has indicated that it will insist on the establishment of some fees in an effort to increase revenues and keep some programs operating that might otherwise have to be sacrificed to the city's budget problems.