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City of Missoula mulls parks and recreational fee increases

Donna Gaukler, director of Parks and Recreation, opens Fort Missoula Regional Park in this file photo. The city is considering a fee increase for use of such facilities. (Missoula Current file)

Citing the rising cost of materials and wages and a desire to keep tax increases at bay, the City of Missoula will consider raising the rates it charges specific groups to use the facilities associated with parks and recreation.

Shirley Kinsey, the city’s recreation superintendent, said most of the fees are connected to additional services provided beyond the base level of maintenance. When considering a fee increase, they review current wages, the cost of supplies and the services sought by users.

The fees cover a wide range of activities, from summer softball and soccer to shelter reservations and special-use permits.

“Our fee strategy really is to work toward a break-even point,” said Kinsey, “Generally, we look at the cost recovery expenses that are directly related to the extra services we’re providing.”

Kinsey on Monday told members of the City Council that a recent survey suggested that most taxpayers support the services such recreational fees provide. But they also believe those who directly benefit from the services and facilities should pay the costs of using them.

Under the current proposal, the use of a full soccer field would increase from $21 an hour to $32 while the lacrosse pitch would increase from $26 to $34 an hour. Shelter reservations would also increase depending on the shelter used.

“We have a choice in how we make this as equitable as possible in providing the services we provide,” said Mayor John Engen. “We’re trying to recapture at least some of those costs so that we’re not reaching into the parks district and increasing taxes to pay for those services.”

In some cases, user fees represent the bulk of a facility’s operating costs. At the aquatics center, for example, just 12% of the funding is provided by the city’s general fund while 84% comes from user fees.

The city hasn’t increased user fees since 2019, according to parks officials.

“It’s important to remember that we’ve had a huge increase in use of our facilities and fees didn’t go up last year for a number of reasons,” said council member Mirtha Becerra. “But there’s also an issue of fairness that needs to be brought up when we consider our fee structure. I don’t think it’s fair that all taxpayers should have to pay for something that only a certain portion of the population is using.”

Some members of the public disagreed with the proposed increase.

“The increase in fees for individuals and user groups to use public parks leads to a smaller population able to use them,” said resident Matt Loomis. “Much of the general public is priced out of being able to do that. We use the facilities, I get that. But parks and recreation should not be a revenue driver.”