The city’s governing body approved an ordinance creating a recreation advisory commission which has the authority to charge access fees at city parks and fields. The commission, made up of seven members, five appointed by the mayor and two alternatives members appointed by the council, will have the power to charge a “reasonable admission fee for each person” entering city parks and fields.
“I think that we need to move towards this for financial purposes,” said Benjie Wimberly, director of recreation. “We’ve been financially stagnant with the same budget for many years.”
Wimberly said each year the program has to accommodate more and more children with a flat budget. “The fees that we collect will go back into the capital improvement of the overused fields that we have right now; we currently utilize over 12 parks and fields. And they are very much overused,” said Wimberly.
Two council members raised concerns over the fees. Alex Mendez, councilman at-large, said he has received phone calls from several softball teams that are concerned about the fees. “They are concerned,” said Mendez.
“I don’t want the fees to be imposed on the backs of Patersonians who are using these fields,” said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman. Sayegh subtly suggested the recreation the city is attempting to promote by imposing fees will likely have unintended consequences, mainly, families, who presently utilize the parks and fields without a fee, may simply stop using them.
Julio Tavarez, 5th Ward councilman, said the city is going back and hitting the taxpayers yet again by granting this commission the power to extract money from park goers and field users.
Other council members fretted over the number of appointments. The council gets only two appointments and alternatives at that while the mayor will be able to appoint five members. Council members questioned the manner in which appointments will be made.
“The mayor makes the appointments with the advice and consent of the council,” said Domenick Stampone, law director. “However, in the spirit of cooperation, the mayor has agreed to accept those nomination from council members in rotating basis as he has outlined.”
A memo from mayor Jose “Joey” Torres states he is willing to accept recommendations from council members before making appointments. “I hope this memo is honored,” said Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large.
School board member Errol Kerr complained the school board was not included in the discussion. Kerr said he does not want to see incompetent individuals appointed to the board.
“I’d like to know more about who are the appointees,” said Kerr. The school board member said there are far too many boards in the city that are stacked with members who are clueless about their duties and functions.
Jonathan Hodges, school board member, piggybacked on Kerr, stating the city’s school board ought to have played a role, for any set fees will likely have a greater impact on the school board.
Council members asked about the amount the commission wishes to raise by levying fees. “Do we know how much funding this will potentially generate? Are there any projections?” asked Sayegh.
“No, there is no such information available,” answered Nellie Pou, business administrator.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, said often non-residents use the fields and leave them in bad shape. “We have to make them accountable for using our fields,” said Morris. The councilman said the fees will do just that.
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, concurred stating there are plenty of out-of-towners, who use the city’s fields without paying for it. The new fees will force them to pay their fair share, said McKoy.
Tavarez said he did not see any data that proves outsiders are even using city parks and fields. “At no point in time did they give us any data as to how many [outsiders are using our fields],” said Tavarez.
“We created this commission to create revenue, but we’re not clear how much revenue this will generate,” added Mendez. “We’re not clear about what we’re voting for.”
Sayegh suggested the ordinance be tabled and sent back to committee for review. Sayegh and Mendez wanted to table the ordinance, but the effort came to naught. Other council members voted against tabling the ordinance.
After the failed attempt to table, the council held an up or down vote on the ordinance. Mendez, Sayegh, and Tavarez voted against the ordinance. While casting his vote in favor of the ordinance, Morris said the city has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in parks renovation citing Pennington Park.
“We don’t have any sustainable revenue to maintain these parks and fields,” said Morris. “This ordinance at least moves us a step in the right direction.”