Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) As a new season of recreation nears with its soccer leagues and softball, swimming pools and youth programs, the City of Missoula will consider an updated fee schedule to fund such facilities.

The Department of Parks and Recreation is expected to present a draft of its proposed new fees in January, followed shortly after by City Council consideration.

“Parks and Recreation program services are almost entirely by choice and discretionary by the user,” Donna Gaukler, the program's director, said Wednesday. “We charge fees for a huge number of reasons, and we go through a very lengthy process to get to those fees.”

Gaukler said the decision to increase fees is based off a basic business formula that includes the cost and indirect costs of the department's programs. It includes maintenance and staffing, operational costs and the revenue needed to cover it.

The result keeps the wider public from subsidizing a summer of softball, soccer or pool maintenance, but users have been critical in the past when fees are set to rise.

“Through fees, we can add value to programs and increase access by offering more program services,” Gaukler said. “In general, across the program services, most of our adult programs average around a 75% recovery rate, which is higher than most of our peer cities. In pools, we're recovering similar, which is higher than other communities across Montana of similar size.”

The department has posted its proposed fee structure for 2023 and will present them a public hearing on Jan. 9. The city has asked Parks and Rec to move its fee schedule in line with the city's annual budgeting process.

Gaukler said it will do so, even if it's challenging and may require an amendment later in the year. The department has typically based its fees on a calendar year, with most of its revenue coming between spring and early fall.

“We probably need to be ready for a midyear budget and fee amendment, because we change fees and try to provide excellence in customer service, and when you're talking about where people play and place their kids in programs, it's hard for them to think that far ahead and understand why the fee change happened,” Gaukler said.