By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Five dollars to park at Howarth Park.
Fundraisers and higher fees to keep city pools open.
And volunteers enlisted to help maintain city parks.
Of all the Santa Rosa city departments adjusting to the austere new budget, none was scrambling faster or proposing more controversial measures than the Recreation, Parks and Community Services Department.
Facing a 12 percent drop in his budget, director Marc Richardson served up a host of ideas to raise additional revenue or save money to keep parks clean, pools open and summer programs running.
“It’s been quite a roller coaster within the department,” Richardson said.
The fee approved Thursday most likely to rile the public is the plan to begin charging people $5 to park at Howarth Park all day, and $2 for two hours. The fees would raise about $500,000 in expected revenue and fines beginning in early September.
Several council members acknowledged the public outcry likely will be fierce.
“We’re not looking forward to the public comments and the angst,” Mayor Susan Gorin said.
The plan calls for installing eight paying stations like those recently installed downtown, and hiring an additional parking enforcement officer to patrol the park. Parents dropping off or picking up kids from park programs would be exempt, Richardson said.
Fees for those programs are going up as well, by between 15 percent and 25 percent, he said.
The department is raising fees slightly for just about everything else the public uses its facilities for. Private groups renting the auditorium at the Finley Center will pay $95 instead of $90. Youth leagues will pay $5 per child per season, up from $4. And a family all-season pass for the city pools will jump from $235 to $300.
Council members expressed regret that people would have to pay more to use city facilities, and concern that it would further reduce usage.
“I’m just not wild about making it harder for the kids to participate,” Councilman Gary Wysocky said.
Richardson said he shared the concern, noting that fees on a popular city adult basketball program got so high that the league disbanded.
Overall, the fee increases are expected to raise a little more than $100,000.
But even with that increase, the operations of the pools remain in jeopardy. Even after efforts to increase their energy efficiency and raising $10,000 in donations from community groups, the department is still about $62,000 short, Richardson said.
To overcome that shortfall and keep the pools open, the city is planning a 5K run/walk fundraiser Aug. 29 to raise the difference. Gorin urged her fellow council members to reach out to their constituents and heavily promote the event.
She added that she’s been amazed that the public remains “totally clueless” about the challenges facing the parks, as evidenced by the increase in complaints about weeds, dry grass and garbage.
Richardson said he hopes to turn those complaints into action by helping people volunteer to clean their neighborhood parks. Councilwoman Jane Bender urged the installation of signs in the parks to explain to the public why they look so bad and how they can help.
“I think education is the key. I mean, they’re still not going to like it, but at least they’ll know what’s going on.”