Should nonresidents pay 35 percent more, and wait a week longer to register, for the city of Menlo Park's recreation classes? As a prelude to the Parks and Recreation Commission's consideration of the issue later this year, council members set aside some time on May 6 to provide their perspectives, as did several community members.
The 35 percent surcharge has been in place for about 10 years. Residents already pay $14 per $100,000 of assessed property value each year as part of Measure T, a bond measure passed to support Menlo Park's recreation programs and facilities, Community Services Director Cherise Brandell explained during the May 6 council meeting. How that stacks up against the nonresident surcharge will be researched before the commission meeting takes place this fall.
Six people, some of whom live within the 94025 Menlo Park zip code but outside city limits, told the council the surcharge is an unfair expense for families, as is the one-week registration delay.
Dawn Irvine said her son competes on the gymnastics team for the city of Menlo Park, not the unincorporated county. Five out of the six team members live outside city limits. "I don't think the impact of fees on a team was considered," she said, adding that her family spent about $3,200 just on gymnastics classes -- which doesn't include private lessons or meet fees -- and that was about $730 more than a family living in Menlo Park.
"You've caused people to step away from the programs," Ms. Irvine said.
As for the registration delay, Ms. Irvine and other parents told the council that their children, who go to Menlo Park schools, would like to attend recreation classes with their friends from school, but often find popular programs like gymnastics full once their one-week waiting period expires.
Martial arts instructor Kristin Quintana of Kuk Sool Won talked about the impact the fees have on her business. With 93 students currently, her classes are at only 58 percent of capacity, she said. "I lost 45 students who said they didn't want to pay the nonresident rate." But after getting the city to agree to let her pay half the surcharge, effectively lowering it to 17 percent for her students, "in five weeks, I had four students decide to stay ... and five students returned to the program after several years away."
Exacerbating the problem, Ms. Quintana said, is that the surcharge doesn't apply to every program in the same way. Some instructors don't charge nonresidents more, and some charge less than 35 percent. "(That) asks my students to subsidize other programs."
Councilman Peter Ohtaki, who owns property in unincorporated Menlo Park, said he supports a higher fee for nonresidents to make up for the Measure T taxes residents are paying, but encouraged the city to see whether 35 percent is more than other cities charge. He also proposed looking at a "membership program" that would allow nonresidents paying an annual fee the same registration priority as residents.
Perhaps those living within unincorporated portions of Menlo Park should explore annexation to become part of the city, Councilwoman Kirsten Keith suggested. She noted that she would have a very difficult time telling a resident that he or she couldn't get into a class because of a nonresident.
Vice Mayor Catherine Carlton said her daughter spent months on the waiting list for gymnastics, so long that she'd nearly lost interest by the time an opening was available.
Councilman Rich Cline and Mayor Ray Mueller want data. Lots of data: which classes are full; what proportion of students come from unincorporated areas; which programs serve mainly the city and which, such as soccer leagues, are more regional; and so on.
The mayor said he was also very interested in exploring a membership program, along with sliding surcharges for classes that aren't full. It "makes no sense to me" to charge the full 35 percent for empty classes, Mr. Mueller said.