The D.C. Recreation Department plans to start charging fees next year for programs and sports facilities that have been free for nearly 40 years, including $100 for a family swimming pool pass, up to $3.50 an hour for use of city tennis courts and $5 per hour for buses used by handicapped and retarded persons.
In addition, the recreation department plans to charge $20 for each two-week session at day camps, 50 cents for rental of chairs at theatrical performances and $5 an hour to use playing fields.
Recreation director William H. Rumsey said in a memorandum to D.C. Finance and Revenue Director Carolyn Smith that the fees undoubtedly will oblige some people to curtail their use of the facilities, but that provisions will be made for hardship cases. "We now face the reality of severe budget austerity and recommend that certain recreation services be provided under a fee schedule," he said. Social and church groups "would probably resist" the imposition of fees, but "acceptance would come with time."
Rumsey said yesterday that City Council authorization will be needed before the fees can be imposed, but the council itself directed that the fee schedule be drafted. Council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), chairman of the Committee on Human Resources, said the principle of charging some fees has been accepted by the council and "if Rumsey doesn't do it, he'll be in trouble." She said Rumsey submitted his plans to Smith because the finance department is making a citywide evaluation of user fees and service charges, many of which have not been raised in years , with an eye to raising more revenue from the uses of city services.
The idea of assessing fees for services that have been free since the department was set up in 1942 is not new. Congress and members of the City Council have been suggesting it for several years the proposed rate schedule is not much different from one drafted for discussion purposes by Rumsey's staff in 1977, when recreation department planners estimated that a similar fee package would yield $315,000 a year. What is new is the discovery that the District of Columbia government has been operating at a massive deficit that has led to a drive by Mayor Marion Barry to cut costs and increase revenues.
In his memo to Smith, Rumsey stressed that he will maintain a "posture of flexibility, completely open to suggestions and revisions," in the public hearings the department is planning to hold on the fees schedule.
"People at our level might not be aware of some concerns they have out in the community," he said, "but at public hearing you get right down to where the rubber meets the road." Other officials said the fees actually adopted will probably be smaller and less sweeping than those currently proposed.
The proposed fee schedule probably would have its greatest impact at the city's 43 public indoor and outdoor swimming pools. About 1.8 million swimmers use the pools annually, at a cost to the city approaching $1.5 million.
The recreation department proposed a varied schedule of pool fees, ranging from 50 cents for children and the elderly on weekdays to $2.50 for adults in weekend prime hours. Family season passes would cost $100 a year for city residents and $175 for nonresidents. Admission to the pools would be free on weekday mornings.
Play at the city's 162 tennis courts would be free from 1 to 3 p.m. on weekdays. At other times, fees would range for $1 per hour for elderly persons to $3.50 for nonresidents using any of the 50 lighted courts. In addition, the lights would be metered, with coins to be deposited to keep the lights on. Rumsey estimated that each meter would cost $775 to install.
At both the pools and the tennis courts, Rumsey said, additional staff would be necessary to collect the money. He said a numbered receipt system would have to be set up to make sure the worker turn in all the cash. Concrete "security pits," which the workers could not open would have to be installed to foil would-be robbers. At the other facilities, the fees would be payable in advance to the department. The proposed charges include:
Rental fees for meeting rooms, gymnasiums and auditoriums. A flat $15 fee would be charged for the use of meeting rooms, but auditoriums would be cost up to $35 an hour.
Fees for the use of playing fields for soccer, football, softball and rugby. "Small fields," not otherwise defined, would cost $5 per hour. The biggest fee would be $800 for 100 hours of use of a "large field" by nonresidents.
A fee of $20 for each two-week session at the day camps for children aged 7 to 14.
Charges for appearances by theatrical and musical troupes, dancers and puppet shows. Boxing rings, stages, stereo equipment, movie projectors and costumes would be rented for varying fees. These charges would range from $400 for a weekend appearance by a "showmobile" down to the chair-rental fee.
Fares on the recreation department buses that transport groups of elderly, handicapped and retarded persons: $5 per hour per bus and $2 per person per trip on weekdays, more on weekends.
There is no mention of fees in the recreation department's $22 million operating budget for the 1982 fiscal year beginning next Oct. 1; nor is any money allocated in it for the additional staff and security facilities Rumsey said would be needed to collect the proposed fees. In his memo to Smith, Rumsey said there is no way t tell how much money would be raised through the fees, because it is not known how many people would pay them, and he gave no estimate of the overall cost of setting up the collection system.
Rumsey told Smith the fee schedule was proposed only after "careful examination of demographic data regarding the citizens of our city" and after consultation with reaction officials in other cities, including Miami, Milwaukee and Tucson.
Currently, residents of all five suburban jurisdictions adjoining Washington must pay for use of most public recreation facilities.