Participants in Columbia County Recreation Department sports programs could see a gradual increase in fees during the next five years.
The proposed five-year rise, which would go into effect July 1 if approved by county commissioners next month, would add a new uniform fee. It also would raise the registration fee by 8 percent.
Barry Smith, the division director of community and leisure services, said the proposed increase is simply an attempt to "keep expenses in line with revenue."
"The price of everything goes up -- insurance, the price of goods," said Smith. "I think we need to look at recreation sports as a business. Look at it as a situation where you have to charge the consumer for the use of materials."
Participants would pay a new uniform fee this fiscal year of $25 for football, $10 for baseball and softball, and $5 for cheerleading, soccer and basketball.
The uniform fee would increase gradually for all sports except football, ending after the five-year period in 2015 at $15.
Smith noted that while participants will have to pay for their uniforms, they will get to keep them rather than giving them back at the end of the season.
The registration fee, currently set at $60 for every sport, will not increase until 2013, when it will go up by $5. A plan is in place to waive fees for families whose income falls below a certain level.
This past fiscal year, the recreation department incurred costs of just more than $540,000. With a 3 percent yearly increase factored in, that number could grow to $625,000 by 2014.
Without any change in participant fees, Smith estimates an annual revenue in 2014-15 of about $275,000. If fees are increased, however, those figures jump to $375,000.
Even without the fee increase, Columbia County's fees still are higher than those of Richmond County's recreation department and the Family Y.
"We offer a wide sundry of programs that they just don't," Smith said of other local entities. "We offer way more athletic programs than they do."
Smith said that the county's goal is to create an equal split, meaning that the participant covers 50 percent of the cost and the county covers the other 50 percent.
The county also is considering several cost-saving measures, Smith said, such as providing an online registration option, which would not be available for first-time participants.
"Instead of Patriots Park being bombarded by thousands of people, (they) can register online," Smith said. "It saves them money, and it saves the county money with less staff for on-site registration."
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