Fees for everything from recreation centers to golf to the miniature train at Burke Lake Park would go up beginning in April under a proposal by the Fairfax County Park Authority.
The October sniper attacks and cold, snowy weather have contributed to lower than expected revenue at Park Authority facilities and are among the reasons officials are considering fee increases for the current budget year.
Among the largest proposed increases is a 5 percent hike in recreation center fees, which would raise the annual admission for one adult from the current $724.50 to $761. Those fees have remained unchanged for three years while inflation has pushed costs higher, officials said. An increase, they said, is needed to keep pace with the cost of operations and pay for improvements.
Other recommendations, which could be implemented as soon as April 1 and would stay in effect in the 2004 fiscal year, are higher charges for campsite rentals at Lake Fairfax during peak times, use of county boat launch areas at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax, golf course greens fees and club rentals, equestrian center rental at Frying Pan Park and fees at miniature golf courses.
"We've certainly had our challenges this last year with weather and the sniper taking away some of our business for quite a while," said Park Authority spokeswoman Judy Pedersen, who stressed that the consideration of fee adjustments is a routine part of every budget, whether revenues are up or down. "It took away a significant chunk" of revenue, she said of the sniper attacks and snowy weather.
A public comment session is scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the proposals and will be followed by a 30-day public comment period. The Park Authority board, which has the power to modify or reject any of the items, will vote March 12.
Last fall's sniper shootings, which stretched from Oct. 2 to Oct. 22 and left 10 people dead, terrorized the region and forced the cancellation of many events, including a host of Halloween programs. The Park Authority's haunted house and ghost train, usually a big money-maker that attracted more than 8,000 visitors in 2001, was one of the lost activities. Many golfers also stayed off the greens during that period.
"We just know that across the board revenues are down," Pedersen said, although she could not be more specific. In addition, she said, "there's a residual impact from threats of going to war [with Iraq] because it's always hard to predict if people will spend time in the parks or not."
With only half the Park Authority's revenue coming from the county government, Pedersen said, officials would have been looking at these increases regardless of mitigating circumstances.
"It's the inevitable part of our business . . . but there are things pushing us a little harder this year," she said.
Pedersen said the goal is to increase fees to maintain and improve facilities while remaining competitive in price with other local providers.
In many cases, proposed fee increases are small but significant. For instance, the cost to ride the train at Burke Lake could go up from $1.25 to $1.75, and wilderness camping fees could double, rising from $1 to $2.
Meanwhile, at the equestrian center at Frying Pan Park, where fees have not changed since 1988, a proposal exists to increase the cost of renting the entire indoor center -- for 10 hours -- from $300 to $450.
Greens fees would go up $1 across the board.
The fees for the new Wakefield Park skate park would be set at $7.50 per session.
"We're not required to hold a hearing or comment period," Pedersen said. "But we really welcome the input on this. People aren't shy about telling us their opinions. This is the opportunity for them to tell us we're out to lunch or simply what they think."
Residents who wish to speak at the public hearing can sign up in advance by calling the Park Authority's public information office at 703-324-8662. Participants can also sign up that night. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on the first floor of the Herrity Building, at 12055 Government Center Pkwy.