Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The Missoula City Council got its first look Wednesday at a proposal to increase fees within Parks and Recreation, including use of the city's aquatics facilities, and tennis and pickleball courts.

While parks officials said they'd rather not raise fees, the increases are needed to cover inflationary costs and higher wages.

“We generally don't want to charge fees, but we understand the need to offset the budget and set reasonable expectations,” said Shirley Kinsey, the city's recreational superintendent. “The fees in general help us increase our ability to serve more residents by expanding our capacity. They allow us to increase the value and quality of our services.”

Like most, the parks department has been “challenged” by the inflation of services, Kinsey said. The department also has approved “a significant wage increase” to stay competitive in the job market.

Supply shortages continue to be an issue, as is the rising cost of basic goods. Kinsey said the department has seen a 47.5% increase in operational supply costs over the past year.

“Our chlorine distributor for pools, they decreased the bucket size of chlorine, but they didn't decrease the price,” Kinsey said, adding that the cost of some purchased services increased 7% and wages increased 10%.

“The majority of taxpayers like our services. They're satisfied,” Kinsey said. “But while they support our overall mission, they'd like to see those directly benefiting from the use of our facilities and additional services pay for those additional costs through user fees.”

The City Council will consider a number of fee increases next month, including a 25% increase in the price of using a tennis or pickleball court. Hourly use will increase from $4 to $5 while use for private lessons will increase from $10 per hour to $12.25.

Parks also proposes to add private rental groups to its fee structure for use of the city's pools. The University of Montana swim team, along with private kayak classes and SCUBA programs, would see a $75 fee per hour.

Renting the city's aquatics facilities would increase 10%, and daily fees will increase $0.25 at Currents. Punch cards and annual passes would increase as well.

“We all pay for parks,” said council member Amber Sherrill said. “These are user fees. They pay for services beyond the base maintenance. When we look at a 47.5% increase in operational costs, that's astounding to me.”

To offset the impacts of some fee proposals, Kinsey said parks is looking for ways to increase its scholarship program.

Scholarships help lower-income families cover the cost of using various parks programs including pools and day camps. Income is now self-reported, Kinsey said.

“Our goal is to not turn anyone away due to socio-economic reasons,” Kinsey said. “We're trying to find additional ways to make money, because the scholarship program is so popular, just because of the need these days.”