The City of Abbotsford is looking at the way it calculates user fees for parks, recreation and cultural (PRC) programs and services.
Council voted at its meeting on July 26 to approve a draft plan that lays out a “benefits based” approach to setting fees and charges.
Those charges are currently paid for by a combination of user fees and tax support.
But a staff report to council says the goal is to base the costs on those who benefit directly from PRC programs and services, while reducing the financial hit to taxpayers.
“Like many cities, Abbotsford has used a primarily subjective process for determining PRC fees and charges,” the report states.
“Staff and council explain or justify most fees with the explanation, ‘We charge similar rates to our neighbours.’ This historical practice for setting fees and charges is without objective rigour or transparency, can be subjective, and has led to inequity across participant groups and facility use.”
The staff report indicates that, in a non-COVID year, PRC fees and charges account for approximately $7.4 million and total expenses amount to $22.9 million, resulting in $15.5 million coming from taxpayers.
The draft plan lists a six-step process for setting fees, including calculating “unit costs” – for example, the cost to provide and hour of arena ice or a drop-in swim.
These costs are calculated by dividing the annual expenses by the number of uses. For example, if it costs $100,000 to provide a space and it is used for 500 hours, then the unit cost is $200 per hour.
“Once unit costs are known, subsidy levels and cost recovery rate can be assigned to help determine fees,” the draft report states.
“…Those who benefit from a good or service should pay in proportion to the benefit they receive. If a user only benefits, then the user should pay 100 per cent of the costs. If the community receives most of the benefits, then the service can be subsidized to the extent justified.”
The draft plan states that every four years the costs should be monitored and adjusted and subsidy levels should be reviewed and adjusted.
An initial round of public input on the plan indicated that, of the 142 respondents, 75 per cent were either “very supportive” or “somewhat supportive” of the benefits-based approached to setting PRC fees and charges.
The next step is for council’s final approval of the plan followed by consideration of the updated PRC fees and charges bylaw in the fall. Implementation of the new fees is expected in January 2022.
The draft report can be read online at letstalkabbotsford.ca.