CV Starr fees to go up in 2024
The Fort Bragg City Council voted Monday night to increase usage and membership fees for the CV Starr center, which the city recently took over from the Mendocino Coast Recreation and Parks District. Amid concerns that hiking the fees would hit low-income members of the local swim team especially hard, the Council also agreed to use a special fund to pay for the swim meet next month. It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year for the nonprofit Sea Dragons team, bringing hundreds of visitors to town for the weekend festivities. In addition to the Sea Dragons, the Tidal Waves, or Special Olympics, and local high school swim teams also rent lanes.
Starting next year, when the increases go into effect, the lane rental fees for swim teams will rise from $8.50 an hour to $13. Staff projects that this and other fee increases will generate an additional $180k a year for the facility. The operating budget for this fiscal year is $2.1 million, a 17% increase from last year.
CV Starr fees have not increased since 2013, the year after Fort Bragg city voters approved a half-cent sales tax to keep the center going. According to a staff report, the city took title of the facility in 2012, but it has been run by the Parks District.
But even with the sales tax and a property tax sharing agreement with the district, costs have climbed. The price of propane to heat the pool has doubled since the end of the pandemic, and insurance rates and the minimum wage are going up, too.
The city will absorb the parks district employees and take on paying their benefits and salaries. Moneque Wooden, formerly of the parks district, said a comparative study of similar facilities in the region show that even with higher fees, Fort Bragg will not cover all its costs. Wooden said the proposed fees for CV Starr are still much lower than those for similar facilities in the region, including the Ukiah Valley Athletic Club and a pool in Arcata. “I would like to state that the fees that we are proposing tonight will still not cover the hard costs of each line item,” she said. “And that going forward, the City of Fort Bragg will be conducting a full comprehensive study to factor in the cost of current personnel who will eventually be absorbed by the city, thus causing another increase in costs.”
Rhonda Wasco, a Sea Dragons board member, said the increases mean the swim team won’t be able to offer financial assistance to members anymore. “From a financial perspective, why would anyone propose a fee structure that could possibly ultimately bankrupt a non-profit swim club serving 35-50 swimmers at a time, without first consulting their board?” she asked during public comment. “The swim board was not offered to meet and confer before proposed increases looking at the financials and the needs of the club and the center. Wouldn’t this be an obvious first step for any institution looking at the needs of their clients first?” She said she did appreciate that the increase in lane rental fees was lower than the original proposal, but, “We will be looking at removing our financial aid program to offset this increase. Twenty percent of our club is on financial aid. We have prided ourselves on including our community’s needs, including our low-income families, but we'll be forced to end that program under this proposed budget.”
Tina Kira Nicholas, who told the Council she lives in HUD housing, wants lower lane rental fees, but she’s willing to dig deep so her son can take part in the sport they both love. “It’s like witnessing an angel firsthand when he swims,” she said. “I’m not going to prevent my son from competing because we’re poor…It’s an easy thousand dollars for my son to compete. We have two nights to stay in a hotel. We’re trying to save money. It’s an easy $70 at Chipotle for the three of us to eat a burrito. I’m not going to bring cereal from home to save money. I’m going to be a good mom for my kid, who is a star, representing Mendocino.”
Council member Lindy Peters explained why he voted for the fee increase. “The price of a gallon of gasoline, and this is also adjusted for inflation, has gone up close to 40% since 2013,” he said. “Everything has increased a lot in the last ten years. But we haven’t increased the fees at CV Starr.”
Mayor Bernie Norvell added that the city has to bring in $17 an hour to keep the club open. “Everybody wants the facility to stay open,” he acknowledged. “And I hear that it’s not a business, but you have to run it like a business if you want to keep it open and you want to keep the repairs up. There’s no choice. You can’t go start a business, lose money every single day, and expect to stay there…so that leads you to the hard decisions of raising fees.”
Council member Tess Albin Smith told a cautionary tale about the end of home team soccer tournaments in Fort Bragg. “When the schools lost their funding, they had to make cuts,” she recalled. “They stopped taking care of the fields, and that was that. As you know, the fields still haven’t been repaired. So no fields, no tournaments. Nobody would come. They’re in such terrible shape. I get so jealous when I go out of town and I see these beautiful fields. We don't want that to happen with the swim team. No money, no maintenance, no pool.”
One of the biggest increases is the fee for renting the whole facility, as the Sea Dragons will have to do for their two-day event next month. The actual costs per day for staff to be on hand from early in the morning until well into the evening is $4,675. The current fee is $1,214, and in January, it will go up to $2,200 per day. Peters proposed that the council cover the cost this year from the City Council goals fund, saying, “Hopefully that will help put a little salve on the wound here tonight,” from approving the fee increases.
The council agreed unanimously, amid assurances of help with fundraising.