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Committee revisits recreation fee waivers

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Anna Aragon, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Councilor Juan Oropesa listen as Councilor Savino Sanchez explains his view on recreation fee waivers at the general services committee meeting on Wednesday afternoon. Councilors Jacob Roebuck and Angela Moore and Tara Tave sit to the right of Sanchez. (Alison Penn Photo)

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Roswell City Council’s general services committee on Wednesday decided to postpone voting on a policy on recreation fee waivers, to add revisions.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the city’s director of administrative services, shared a draft of the fee waiver policy with the council after last month’s conversation about scholarships for families and children in need of assistance to participate in recreation activities.

Gilbert said the council had the opportunity to vote on the proposed policy or share input on another draft.

In the past, Gilbert said people would fill out paperwork without income verification — and that the new policy would ask for the past two months of pay stubs or last year’s income tax return. Once the paperwork is received, Gilbert said the applicant’s household income would be compared to Roswell’s median income, at $41,000, with discounts based on the difference. Gilbert said the drafted waiver also had a $75 maximum waiver per person for the calendar year, and Councilor Jacob Roebuck said he felt the requirements to prove income were too tedious for a $75 dollar coupon.

Some of the councilors voiced opposition to the income verification. Gilbert responded the city would have to face the challenge of people taking advantage of the system and the verification prevents that.

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The committee agreed on consistent parameters for recreation staff to make decisions rather than each application going before council.

Though there was no official policy in the past, Gilbert said a form was used at the Yucca Recreation Center for the Vacation Fun Program that cost $390 for the summer. Committee members said they would prefer the fee waiver be applicable to any recreation program, with an emphasis on the Vacation Fun Program, and Gilbert said the only exceptions would include memberships or special events.

Recreation Supervisor Damian Cheatem said the Summer Vacation Program provides field trips, swimming, arts and crafts, going to the movies and other events. Cheatem said around 120 kids were registered, and numbers fluctuate between 40 and 60 during summer school with a daily average of 80 kids.

When asked by the committee how waiving fees was handled in the past, Recreation Superintendent Laurie Dudek said the former Parks and Recreation director’s instruction was to turn no child away and create an invoice without collecting fees when needed to track the spending. She said the fees would be written off at the end of the fiscal year.

For the sports program, Cheatem said he would put people on a payment plan if required and that some parents would volunteer at the Recreation Center to offset their child’s cost. When asked by Sanchez about how he dealt with kids who could not pay, Cheatem confirmed that in the past two years the Recreation Center did have to turn people away.

City Manager Joe Neeb compared the fee waiver to in-kind services and the special events policy that has been discussed at various city meetings. Neeb said the staff would need to document those who were receiving the fee waivers and other information. Instead of creating another line item in the city budget, Neeb said the recreation department could keep the funds in the revenue stream and document whether the transaction was a waiver or not.

Neeb said determining the amount of funding needed for fee waivers would take more analysis and, since the city budget is set to be finalized this week, he said funding would have to come from another line item.

After conferring with Dudek and Cheatem, the committee asked Gilbert to revisit the policy by applying the waiver only to children and with other requests. The committee decided to vote on the revised policy in August. Councilor Sanchez said he wanted the policy simplified and Roebuck said he would rather just trust people and take their word on their income.

Councilor Angela Moore said it saddened her to know that kids in the same household could be excluded because the household could not afford it. Councilor Juan Oropesa said he did not like the scale because it did not include family size. From his past working in the welfare office, Oropesa said it is hard to know the true income of people based on outer appearances like new cars or a nice home.

The committee did approve an arbitrary resolution, unanimously, for the Pecos Trails Transit Department to apply for funding from the New Mexico Department of Transportation.

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.