Manhattan holds discussion on parks and rec program fees

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Facing $1.5 million in revenue shortfalls due to the coronavirus pandemic, Manhattan city commissioners Tuesday listened to Parks and Recreation officials who are seeking greater autonomy regarding program fees.

Parks and Rec Department Director Eddie Eastes specifically was interested in the commission’s ideas regarding Sunset Zoo, Flint Hills Discovery Center and the Rec program catalog.

“I really think we need to adjust the language in these resolutions so that there’s more consistency and a better understanding of how fees are set,” he said.

Commissioner Linda Morse and Mayor Usha Reddi raised concerns regarding the 110% cost recovery of these programs and had debated on whether the existing three resolutions governing fees tied to Sunset Zoo, Flint Hills Discovery Center and Parks & Recreation programs could be consolidated into a more comprehensive plan.

“I can’t do across the board 110 percent recovery mainly because if I look at something like children’s theater, if we go with 110 percent cost recovery that’s $70. If you have two or three kids in it that adds up, as opposed to $65,” Reddi said.

Deputy City Manager Jason Hilgers appeased some of those concerns, informing commissioners that the department’s scholarship assistance program had been underutilized and would roll into 2021. That program provides a 50 percent reduction to families for most programs and aquatic season passes.

Commissioner Mark Hatesohl offered that these programs serve the community beyond the initial price point.

“We can all debate how much the citizens at a whole that aren’t using the programs should pay for stuff. We are all the beneficiaries of parks and recreation programs that somebody helped subsidize when we were kids,” he said.

Eastes asked the commission give him the administrative authority to adjust and set those fees accordingly on a regular basis. He says the expenses of the programs need to be able to react, and officials should be able to set their fee to capture expenses based on a cost recovery formula.

No action was taken Tuesday. It’s expected the item will come back for further discussion at a future meeting.

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