Approve Parks & Recreation Fee Schedule - NO
This was a really hard one for me—a rare no vote on my part, and my first time being the 1 in a 4-1 vote. Here's what happened.
Since the murder of George Floyd, we've been talking a lot about equity, including adding it to the Town Council's work plan for the first time in history (as a Tier 1 priority, no less). But as a Councilmember, I've been frustrated to realize that we have relatively few avenues to actually implement equity for Corte Madera's disadvantaged residents.
The Town of Corte Madera is a small agency with a small budget. Our core functions are things like paving streets and repairing sewer lines; we don't provide things like food stamps or healthcare. The truth is, many of the programs and services that are most suited for advancing equity are offered by higher levels of government or outside agencies.
The Parks & Rec fee schedule a rare and important opportunity: we set the price of the public amenities and programs Corte Madera offers, meaning we set the financial barriers for residents. That makes the fee schedule one of the few levers we have at the small-town level to actually move the dial on equal access to public amenities for residents of all income levels.
Updating the fee schedule is a routine task for us. Fees don't tend to change much from year to year, and we've traditionally been guided by a policy of cost recovery, the idea that we should charge enough to recoup the cost to taxpayers of providing these programs and amenities, but no more.
That's all good and well, and I continue believe that cost recovery on Parks & Recreation offerings is the right policy—but I also believe there must be a set of basic public amenities that are free for any member of the public to enjoy, and that discounted rates must be offered to low-income residents in a way that's reliable and transparent.
The proposal I voted against provides neither. Under that schedule, we will charge residents $30/hour to "rent" the picnic tables in our parks, $20/hour to use the outdoor sand volleyball court, $95/hour to play basketball, and $40/year to play tennis.
We were advised by staff that some of these rates are only intended to apply to commercial and semi-commercial users (i.e. tennis teachers or sports leagues), which makes sense—but that is written nowhere in the policy or fee schedule we voted on. Furthermore, while we were told the Town already offers subsidies for lower-income residents, those subsidies were not presented or included in the fee schedule. At best, this is bad policy; at worst, it opens the Town up to charges of inconsistency in how we charge for services.
While it makes sense to charge for the exclusive use of large, expensive facilities like the Community Center, my belief is that basic features of our parks like benches, tables, fields, and outdoor athletic courts should be free for all Corte Madera residents, whose tax dollars already paid for their construction.
In short, I was unable to vote for this proposal on grounds of both policy and process. I do not agree with charging residents to use basic features of our parks, and I found the proposed resolution and fee schedule to be lacking critical information needed to understand how we actually apply the proposed fees.
I am hopeful that staff will come to us in the future with a fuller picture of how our fees are applied, what subsidies we offer to low-income residents, and the opportunity to rethink whether we should charge residents to enjoy basic public amenities.