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City hiking recreation fees, Community Center rentals
• Changes intended to wipe away center’s deficit operation
Center policies
Community Center rental charges and policies are changing to erase an operational deficit. - photo by Jeff Benziger

In order to erase an operational budget deficit for the Ceres Community Center, the City Council moved last week to increase rental and recreational program fees.

The center, located at 2701 Fourth Street, has been operating at a deficit since its opening in June 2009. At the time it opened city officials expected losses for the first three years (at about $128,261 in red each year) with hopes the center could become self-sufficient. A decade later that hasn’t happened.

Last week Recreation Manager Matthew Lohr presented to the City Council a comprehensive plan to increase fees five percent annually over the next three years. He anticipates an extra $140,000 over the three-year period.

Lohr won approval for the fee increases to take effect on Aug. 19. The majority of Vice Mayor Linda Ryno, and Councilmen Mike Kline and Bret Durossette overruled the objections of Mayor Chris Vierra and Councilman Channce Condit. 

Besides trying to full offset operational costs, Lohr said the fee increases are caused by minimum-wage hikes enacted by the state Legislature.

Lohr proposed changing the structure of charges and reducing red tape to increase use of the Community Center on the days it is least used – Mondays through Thursdays. He recommended eliminating a deposit – which he termed a “burden” – for those wanting to conduct meetings in the small conference room.

A new fee will be created for full-day Wednesday or Thursday use of the center, which can include pre-weddings and banquets. The fee for rentals – from 8:30 a.m. to midnight – on those days will be the same as Friday rates.

Because some who reserve use of the center will cancel a month or more before the reservation, Lohr wants to change the refund policy by keeping some or all of the deposit.

“We’ve had three or four rental cancellations in the last few months that is $8,000 or $9,000 that we lose out in revenue,” said Lohr. He said when cancellations are made it’s difficult to rent rooms out for the same time slot.

To remedy the situation, Lohr wants the city to use the forfeited deposit to subsidize a late renter’s cost to reserve the abandoned time slot. He gave the example of Renter A of reserving Saturday use of the center who pays a $1,000 deposit toward the $1,800 cost, and forfeiting the $1,000 deposit; while Renter B can fill the slot for $800 plus a $100 administrative fee.

 “We really want to make some changes to make it easier for businesses to come in,” said Lohr.

He suggested adding a $40 fee for renters needing a city-supplied security guard if alcohol is served, and $50 extra for insurance if the city’s insurance is to requested.

Because the center is going to be rented out on Sundays to Big Valley Grace Church, the audio visual equipment is being upgraded. Lohr wants businesses and corporations using the center to be able to use the new AV equipment without nickel and diming them. He proposes a business package of $150 and $100 for use of the equipment in the large and small assembly rooms, respectively.

Lohr is also proposing three years of two percent increases at the Ceres American Legion Memorial Building.

Park rental fees

Currently those wanting to reserve a park picnic shelter/area must come down to the center and pay a $40 deposit and pick up a sign on Friday for weekend use and return it on Monday. Lohr wants to waive the $40 deposit and instead raise fees by $5 and staff will put the signs up.

All picnic shelter reservations may now be made online.

Soccer field fees are proposed to increase from $30 per hour to $33 an hour and tournament fees are no longer offered.

The cost of rentals of George Costa Fields increase from $39 to $45 an hour with a two-hour minimum.

The cost of swim lessons is proposed to jump from $45 to $46 in year 1, to $48 in year 2 and $50 in year 3. Lohr also wants to offer a $10 seasonal pass for recreational swimmers at the Ceres High pool during summers but will still offer $2 entry fees for Friday swims.

Modest increases are proposed for summer day camps, from $120 to $124, then $128 and $132.

He also explained that he wants the city to encourage Trunk-Or-Treat participation by offering to provide candy to groups at $50 if they prefer not to buy the candy themselves.

Lohr also is working with the city clerk to offer two-hour slots on every other Wednesday for marriage ceremonies at the center or at Whitmore Mansion, bookable through the city’s website.

Ryno asked why Lohr asked the city to offer five free printer copies to each person each day in the computer lab. He said part of it is out of a desire to reduce cash handling but she said she’d prefer to see the city sell a pre-paid card for copies.

Durossette said he wants to see how the center rentals compare with other cities’ facilities but he feels the Community Center fees are “pretty cheap.” He voiced concern over keeping deposits for cancellations made one to three months out.

Resident Don Donaldson decried the proposed higher fees, saying the city should be lowering recreation costs to get kids out of the house where they play video games.

After an official with the Ceres Earthquakes soccer team spoke about fee increases impacting participation, Condit agreed. He said he doesn’t want to discourage the kids in the non-profit playing groups and said “I think there’s other alternatives that we can look possibly, you know, find lucrative measures.”