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News / Sports / Outdoors

Clark County Council weighs increasing parks fees

Official: Revenue needed to offset growing expenses

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 17, 2024, 6:07am

Clark County parks users likely will pay more for parking, renting picnic shelters and using sports fields this year.

The Clark County Council reviewed proposed fee changes at a Jan. 10 work session.

Parks division manager Rocky Houston said the fee increases are needed to help offset growing expenses. He said it’s been at least three years since park fees were last updated.

“We have a structural deficit within our Greater Clark Parks District and a continued increase and utilization of general funds,” Houston said.

The district has been running in the red for the past three years, Houston said, and using reserves to fill the funding gap. Revenue for the parks district is running about $250,000 short of expenses in 2024, but the operating deficit could grow to more than $1 million by 2029, according to the parks report.

Houston said there are few options available to balance operating costs against revenue. Those options include reducing service levels, increasing user fees, asking voters to increase the parks levy or finding other funds.

“The population is increasing … and with that comes a higher level of use of our current parks and the need to continue to develop those parks within our Greater Clark Parks District,” he told the council.

The fee recommendations came from the parks advisory board, which Houston said is also looking at other things, including as a levy lid lift, to increase parks funding.

Under the proposed fee structure, parking fees would be $5 per vehicle. Currently, fees range from $2 per day for motorcycles to $3 a day for cars, and up to $8 per day for buses or motor homes.

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An annual parking pass would increase by $10, to $40 per year.

Houston said the new parking fees would put the county in line with the rates other jurisdictions charge. He said 97 percent of daily parking use is by passenger vehicles.

Shelter rental fees would also increase. Small shelters, which have a capacity of fewer than 25 people, would be $60 to $85 per day. Medium shelters with a capacity of less than 100 would be $85 to $210 per day, and large shelters would be $170 to $395 per day.

Small shelters are currently $50 per day, medium shelters are $75 and large shelters are $150.

Houston said the parks advisory board looked at shelter rental fees across the greater metro area and found a wide range of fees, from $25 a day to nearly $800. Under the new fee proposal, structures that are in higher demand will be more expensive to rent, but there would be options for users wanting to pay less, he said.

Daily fees for sports field rentals would also change under the proposal. At Felida Community Park, which is currently available at no cost, field rentals would range from $10 to $25 per hour. Harmony, Prairie Fields, Salmon Creek, Hockinson Meadows and Pacific parks would require a lease agreement with an hourly rate ranging from $25 to $50 per hour. Fees at Luke Jensen Sports Park would increase from $25 to $65 per hour, plus fees, to $25 to $100 per hour, plus fees.

A full list of current and proposed fees can be found at https://clark.wa.gov/public-works/parks-advisory-board.

Houston said the state Department of Revenue recommends asking voters to approve a levy lid lift — which allows an increase in property tax collections — every six years.

“Since 2005, we’ve never gone out for a levy lid lift within the Greater Clark Parks District. We were approved at 27 cents per $1,000 of assessed value back in 2005. Our current rate is 13.4 cents per $1,000 of assessed value,” Houston said.

Under the existing levy lid, by 2029 the collection rate will be limited to about 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, Houston added.

While the parks advisory board held public meetings on the fee proposal, the county council will need to hold a public hearing before approving or rejecting the proposal. Details for that meeting will be made available at a later date.

To view the full work session, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFcAi4t57T8.