The city is poised to embark on a refined study to raise fees for the rental of the Ceres Community Center, Ceres American Legion Memorial Building and various park facilities but will continue to offer discounts to Ceres residents, the City Council decided on Monday, Oct. 24.
The city has not finalized numbers but is looking at increasing the cost of renting the Community Center by approximately 11 percent.
A rate increase would not hurt the rate of use but would help recoup the city's costs, said City Recreation Department Manager Traci Farris.
"Definitely we are underpriced in terms of what is found in Modesto," said Farris.
Since it opened in 2009, the Ceres Community Center has been a financial drain on the city's General Fund.
The city has been offering four tiers on pricing, including: a full commercial rate, a discounted Ceres residency rate, a reduced local non-profit rate, and discounted out-of-town non-profit group rate. Ceres residents are given a 10 percent discount. An out-of-town non-profit group pays a 20 percent discount, and a Ceres-based non-profit gets a 30 percent discount. The council was in consensus that all non-profit groups should receive a 10 percent discount regardless of where they are from.
The city charges $1,450 to rent the Large Assembly Room of the Community Center with the optional kitchen use costing $120. Preliminarily, the city plans to include the kitchen and increase the rate to $1,770. The actual increase has not been determined.
Farris recommends that the city automatically include use of the kitchen with the rental of the Large Assembly Room to simplify rates and eliminate the need for her staff to explain various rates. Use of the kitchen is currently optional but most people pay to use it anyway.
Councilmember Linda Ryno agreed with the four pricing tiers being taken down to two "as soon as you can get it done," she told Farris. Her motion was to change the non-profit group discount to 10 percent, with residents getting a 10 percent reduction. Businesses would pay the fully-burdened commercial rate as would those living in other places besides Ceres.
The last time the city raised fees to rent the two halls and picnic shelters was in 2010. Those increases, said Farris, occurred after the city held them down by a recommended 10 percent to remain competitive with facilities in comparable cities.
In April the council embarked on a five-year plan to get the centers operating on less red ink in the city's general fund. City Manager Toby Wells said the city has spent a total of about $1 million to operate the center over eight years, or about $125,000 annually. Raising rates is an attempt to make the Community Center less of a drain on the general fund without scaring off users.
Earlier this year Farris said the city's "fee structure is significantly lower than the area's competitors that we feel would draw our customer base."
City Manager Toby Wells said user fees cannot be crafted to make a profit, only to recover costs.
Wells said the discounts equate to about a $50,000 city subsidy for the year.
"It's probably not the most popular thing but I'm probably going to sit here and say it's hard for me to offer a discount if we can't recover our costs but I'm going to leave it up to my colleagues to chime in," said Mayor Chris Vierra.
The city generally finds the Community Center booked for Saturday and Sunday rentals year round, said Wells.
Wells said the city will study to see if the proposed new rates are still competitive with other rental facilities.
"I think we need to increase it just a little bit," said Councilman Bret Durossette of park picnic facilities. "Even with this facility ... we're losing money on this every year."
"We have an incredible facility," Farris told the council. "We get great feedback. Every time people come here people are amazed how beautiful our facility and we have great prices so I think we could sustain a small increase and still maintain a steady stream of clientele, for sure.
Wells said the city will evaluate rates at the city-owned Ceres American Legion Memorial Building, which is considered the lower cost option for those who cannot afford the Ceres Community Center. Revenues from the Legion Hall are about $29,000 annually with expenses running $43,000 annually.
The American Legion Hall costs $798 to rent.