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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 16, 2003

Specialized park user fee plan makes sense

In the middle of its budget battles with the Harris administration, the City Council has before it a park fee bill that should be passed quickly.

Staff writer Treena Shapiro reports that while the council still has questions about the measure, it wants to see it expedited.

That makes sense. Because although this measure would generate additional income for the city, it is separate from the larger issue of raising fees to balance the budget.

This park user bill is designed to get around a legal problem that prevents the city from charging when tournaments or other major events use municipal recreational facilities.

The idea was to rent out the city's new soccer and tennis complexes in Central O'ahu to national and regional tournaments, professional sports teams and others toward defraying the cost of maintaining these facilities for everyday users.

This makes sense if the emphasis is kept on free recreational use. And it will take some determination to maintain this emphasis. The new facilities have already attracted national attention as being among the best in the country.

Ultimately, the dream is to have an independent contractor manage and promote these facilities. The contractor would get revenue from the professional tournaments while keeping the facilities open for free for local use.

What's needed is an exemption from the law that generally restricts the city from charging fees for use of its parks. This measure deserves quick approval. But in so doing, the council should insist on strict safeguards:

• It must be made clear that the primary purpose of these facilities is to offer recreational opportunities for local residents.

• The income derived from these facilities, whether operated by the city or a contractor, should be put back into maintenance and upkeep.

This cannot and should not be treated as a cash cow to produce revenue for general city expenses.